In Gorakhpur, a Tussle Within the Nishad Community Challenges Sanjay Nishad's Monopoly

The organiser of a Nishad Mahakumbh, Jai Prakash Nishad, is a former BJP man who is taking on Sanjay Nishad, the influential leader of BJP's ally, Nishad party.

Gorakhpur: A tussle for Nishad votes has once again started in Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur with the announcement of a Nishad Mahakumbh on July 24 to challenge the monopoly of the NISHAD Party on the Nishad community.

The organiser of this Mahakumbh, Jai Prakash Nishad, is a former member of Rajya Sabha who left the Bahujan Samaj Party to join the Bharatiya Janata Party. Foremost among issues that Jai Prakash is keen to mobilise the community on is the reservation for Nishads.

Interestingly, the Nishad (an acronym for Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal) Party is a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Jai Prakash Nishad has been in the BJP for some time now. The announcement, however, has led to a war of words between the Nishad party and Jai Prakash.

Where Nishad party leaders have said the organisers of the Nishad Mahakumbh have turned their backs on the Nishad community, the latter are calling Nishad party president Dr. Sanjay Nishad a “dealer” of Nishad votes.

One such scene was witnessed at the Circuit House on Friday, July 21, when Nishad party workers raised loud slogans at Jai Prakash’s press conference.

Sanjay Nishad was also present at the time and presented a letter written ostensibly in blood addressed to the Nishad community.

“Every drop of blood is dedicated to the fishermen community,” he said. “Reservation for Nishad community is at a very crucial stage. The central government will soon clarify its position on the issue of reservation. Opposition leaders are upset with the steps taken on Majhwar and Tureha reservation. Today, those who got the reservation file stolen are trying to mislead the society in the name of reservation. I am ready to debate the issue of reservation in an open forum. The time and place can be decided by the opposition leaders.”

Rise and rise

The Nishad party has witnessed a meteoric rise in a short span of seven years. Today, it has six MLAs in the legislative assembly of Uttar Pradesh. Sanjay Nishad’s elder son Praveen is a BJP MP from Santkabir Nagar while younger son Sarwan is an MLA from Chaurichaura. Sanjay is a cabinet minister in the UP government. Now, his third son, Dr. Amit, is gearing up to launch his political career. He is frequently seen in the programmes of the party and has been made the working president of the Nishad Ekta Parishad.

Sanjay is now trying to extend his party’s reach across Uttar Pradesh and beyond. Recently he visited Tamil Nadu. In the municipal elections, he wanted to field Nishad party candidates in many districts – something the BJP did not pay heed to. More than half a dozen candidates of Nishad party jumped into the fray despite having been instructed not to contest the elections. Sanjay has purportedly set his sights on getting more Lok Sabha seats, but with Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Bhartiya Samaj Party joining the NDA, this seems to be an uphill task.

Also read: Interview | ‘Fully Assured Caste Census Demands Will Be Met by BJP’: O.P. Rajbhar

Meanwhile, Sanjay is also facing hurdles in his own stronghold. During the assembly elections, an attempt was made to cut his vote share by floating a political party named Sarvahara Vikas Party. Mukesh Sahni of Bihar’s Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) also tried to obstruct his straight path to success by fielding candidates in Nishad-dominated seats. 

Samajwadi Party had also fielded several Nishad candidates in Gorakhpur and neighbouring districts but none of them could secure a win.

Attempts to dampen Sanjay’s spirits had not been successful as he managed to win six out of 10 assembly seats. The BJP had given 16 seats to the Nishad Party, in which 10 candidates fought under the symbol of the Nishad Party while six contested on the BJP symbol.

On January 13, 2023, through a grand event to celebrate the 10th Sankalp Divas, Sanjay attempted to establish himself as the sole leader of the Nishad community. The ceremony took place at Mahant Digvijaynath Park on the banks of Ramgarh Tal in Gorakhpur. Chief minister Adityanath was also present.

Documentaries were screened to highlight Sanjay’s achievements. He was hailed as ‘Mahamana’, ‘supremo of Nishad party’, and ‘political godfather of the fishermen’. A garland of Rs 5 lakh in currency notes was presented to him, along with a vehicle worth Rs 51 lakh.

While other political parties, especially the SP, are constantly trying to challenge Sanjay’s growing political clout, efforts are being made to sideline him within the BJP as well. His frequent photo ops with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah have irked several influential BJP leaders.

Sanjay Nishad greets Modi. Photo: Twitter/@mahamana4u

In Purvanchal, granting assembly and Lok Sabha seats to Nishad party candidates has also miffed many. It seems that a lobby within the BJP has put forth Jai Prakash in order to curtail Sanjay’s rise.

The challenger

Jai Prakash Nishad was a Bahujan Samaj Party MLA from Chauri Chaura between 2012 and 2017. The former BSP government had even appointed him as a Minister of State. He contested the 2017 election from Chauri Chaura on a BSP ticket again but lost to BJP’s Sangeeta Yadav.

This was the time when the Nishad Party contested the assembly elections for the first time. It had then allied with Dr. Ayub’s Peace Party and contested on 72 seats. It won only one seat – Gyanpur – but received a significant number of votes – a total of 5,40,539 – in the elections.

Also read: Known for Its Meteoric Rise, Is UP’s Nishad Party Set for Success This Time?

In 2019, the by-election was held on the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat and the SP nominated Sanjay’s son Praveen. He also got the support of BSP, Peace Party and others and took everyone by surprise when he defeated the BJP candidate in Adityanath’s bastion.

This by-election result was widely discussed across the country.

The BJP soon realised that Nishad votes were drifting away from it. So, Jai Prakash was brought on board by the BJP in 2018 to bring back Nishad votes. Two years later, in 2020, the BJP made him a Rajya Sabha member on the seat vacated after the death of Beniprasad Verma. Nishad was a member of the Rajya Sabha for a little more than a year.

He completed his tenure quietly and no special activism was witnessed during this period.

This may be attributed to the fact that before being appointed a Rajya Sabha member, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Nishad Party broke up with the SP and joined the BJP. Sanjay’s closeness with BJP kept increasing and the central leadership of the BJP started giving preference to him.

Jai Prakash’s sudden activism in his decision to organise the Nishad Mahakumbh before the next year’s Lok Sabha elections has shocked political analysts.

Jai Prakash is not very vocal and has the image of a soft leader. He has a close association with the Nishad community but has never showed great ambition. He is also not considered an aggressive leader like Rambhual Nishad, Amarendra Nishad and Kajal Nishad of SP. He maintains friendly ties with leaders across party lines.

The event

At present, Jai Prakash is touring Gorakhpur and other neighbouring districts in connection with the Nishad Mahakumbh and claims that it will have a record gathering. Many veteran Nishad leaders are seen with him on these tours. One of them, Ghanshyama Dutt Nishad, said that all the castes and sub-castes of the Nishads will demand Scheduled Caste reservation for the community in the Mahakumbh.

Besides, the demand for setting up a separate commission for the denotified castes will also be made. He said that if the Nishad community does not get their constitutional right, then the BJP will face severe opposition in the 2024 elections from them. They plan to give an ultimatum of three months to the state and Union government before beginning protests.

On being asked why the demands of the Nishad community have not been met despite the fact that the chief organiser of the Nishad Mahakumbh, Jai Prakash, is a former Rajya Sabha member of the BJP and the Nishad party is also an ally of the BJP-led NDA, he said that Jai Prakash has always raised the demands of the community at his own level. But this time the Nishad community wants to warn the BJP through the Mahakumbh.

He said that the Nishad community has rejected Sanjay Nishad as their leader and no longer expect anything from him. 

“He talks about reservation when he is with us but when he meets prominent leaders of the government, he does not raise the issue,” he said. “With them, he only discusses prospects for himself and his family members. He has served his platter full of food (the election symbol of the Nishad party) for the BJP to eat from. BJP leaders contest elections on the symbol of the Nishad party and tickets are sold off. Now, he is left only with paid workers.”

The Mahakumbh organisers have said that no flag of any political party will be hoisted in the event and there will be no speech for or against any party. 

Jai Prakash Nishad told The Wire, “Nishad Mahakumbh is not an event organised for any political party or organisation but the entire Nishad community. Through this event, we want to tell the Union and state government that they should directly address the community regarding the demands. We want to make it clear that there is no need for any middleman who bargains our votes for favours for his own family members. BJP gave 16 tickets to Nishad party but they were not given to those who struggled for the community. This has caused a lot of disappointment.”

Jai Prakash also added that the community is not angry with the BJP. All they want is to get their rights directly and not through any middlemen.

Jai Prakash claimed that the crowd that is going to gather at the Mahakumbh will break all records.

The reaction

Meanwhile, the announcement for the mega event has caused unease in the Nishad party as indicated in party president Sanjay’s address to party workers on July 21. Without naming Jai Prakash, he called him a ‘traitor, Vibhishan and a snake in the grass’ for the Nishad community and asked his fellow community members to drive such people out. He said that the whole exercise is to get the ‘elephant partner’ (referring to the BSP) a seat. He said that any leader who opposes the lotus (BJP) and the platter full of food (Nishad party) can never belong to the Nishad society. 

“The Prime Minister has honoured me as the leader of the country’s fishermen community,” he said. “Whoever comes in my way, perishes. A ‘Bihari bhai‘ had also surfaced in 2016. Look at the condition he is in today.”

On the allegations of nepotism, he said, “All the members of our family are aboard this train (of struggle). They have been beaten up for fighting for the rights of the Nishad community.”

Nishad party has, meanwhile, organised several major rallies on the banks of Ramgarh Tal. However, this is the first time that Sanjay has been directly challenged the symbolic action of Nishad leaders organising a Nishad Mahakumbh at the same venue.

Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.