As Akshay Verma’s convoy moves from Ekma village in Muzaffarpur, a car blocks his Gypsy. Out comes a young man. An identity card around his neck reads Rupesh Kumar Kunwar. “I am an Independent candidate,” says Rupesh, shaking Akshay’s hand. What he says next floors everyone. “We want good people to win from here. I am supporting you.”
Akshay, 28, candidate of the new Sarvajan Kalyan Loktantrik Party from Muzaffarpur constituency in north Bihar, is the son of Amitabh Verma, chairman of Inland Waterways Authority of India. His campaign vehicle lists his academic credentials, starting with his schooling at Prabhat Tara School, Muzaffarpur, to St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and then Masters in Financial Economics and Public Administration from Oxford and Columbia respectively.
Rumour has it that Akshay decided to float SKLP after failing to get a ticket from other parties. He does not deny it. “The Congress considered me, but I came to know of that only through newspapers,” he says. The SKLP was launched on March 11. However, Akshay is quick to dissociate himself from it. “I am not even an office-bearer. I came to know I was contesting only when party president Rishikesh Kashyap Nishadji came to me with the ticket,” he says.
Akshay would rather be known as the driving force behind the Agratam India Foundation, an NGO he founded in March 2012. A former employee of UBS Investment Bank, London, Akshay says there is no going back now. “Why would I go through all this trouble and put my future at risk if I think I can’t win? I can’t go back to banking, anyway. Those who were working with me have moved up.”
He says his family — “even my grandmother, who cried and said I was part of the one per cent who has no future in politics” — is rooting for him. “My sister Arushi quit her job with Pratham, an NGO, to campaign for me,” he says.
At the pre-lunch meeting at Aurai block’s Ekma, Akshay says two lakh votes will make him a winner. “I have the support of the largest caste — the youth,” Akshay says later, insisting that caste equations do not matter. He is hoping that the networks established by his NGO will help him. “ At least 12,000 families directly benefitted from the NGO. Also, there are 1,800 women who are part of the self help groups that I began,” he says.
Although Akshay denies it, SKLP has factored in the caste equations. Akshay’s NGO has worked mostly with fishermen of the region — the Mallahs, part of the Extremely Backward Classes and comprising about 14 per cent of the population in Muzaffarpur district. “I will facilitate construction of the first fish feed mill in Bihar, ” says Akshay.
SKLP president Rishikesh, also chairman of the state’s cooperative, ia a Mallah. “We will contest under the ‘boat’ symbol in 80 assembly constituencies next time,” he says, targeting a community the BJP considers its votebank. This time SKLP’s four candidates are contesting on the ‘balloon’ symbol.
The BJP has fielded Ajay Nishad, a Mallah, and son of sitting MP Jai Narayan Nishad.