Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party, or the VIP, is the newest entrant to the National Democratic Alliance in Bihar. The “son of Mallah or boatman”, as Mr Sahani is known, has been given 11 seats by the BJP from its share of 121. The BJP also announced that the VIP will be given one seat in the Bihar legislative council in future. To put it in perspective, Nitish Kumar’s JDU has given seven seats to Jitan Ram Manjhi-led Hindustan Awam Morcha (HAM) from its share of 122 seats. Mr Manji is a former chief minister of the state.
Until very recently, Mr Sahani, who represents the extremely backward community of Nishads – a collective identity for more than 20 sub-castes including Mallahs, whose livelihood was traditionally linked to the river – was in the opposition camp. However, amid differences over seat sharing with Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal or RJD, Mr Sahani dramatically junked the grand alliance at the very press conference where the seat allocation was announced. The next stop was the return to the NDA. Even in 2015, the BJP valued Mr Sahani’s importance and got him to campaign in the Assembly elections. There was a falling out after the NDA government failed to keep his demand to include Sahanis among Scheduled Castes.
Politics was not always the first choice of this 39-year-old leader. In 1999, at just 18 years of age, Mukesh Sahni escaped the grinding poverty of his family in Bihar’s Darbhanga to look for work in Mumbai. He struggled for years before he could gain a foothold in the world of films. The journey began with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas and continued with Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Mr Sahani’s Mukesh Cine World Private Limited produces design sets for films and TV shows. Additionally, it also does events and mall branding.
His website states, having made a name in Bollywood, Mr Sahani upon return to his native place found that nothing has changed here. The social, economic and political backwardness of Nishads pained Mr Sahani, says his website, and he decided to dedicate himself to the service of his community. It is then that he named himself as the “son of mallah” and work for their upliftment, adds the website.
In 2016, Mr Sahani formed the Nishad Vikas Sangh and opened offices in Patna and Darbhanga. He floated his VIP party in 2018.
The VIP Party of Sahani contested in the 2019 General Elections in the RJD-led grand alliance or mahagathbandhan. It failed to win any seats in the elections. It remains to be seen how the young leader performs this time and what the BJP stands to gain.