Hoping to return to power in Bihar, the NDA is facing its toughest contest in 78 constituencies that vote on Saturday, including Seemanchal (Kishanganj, Araria, Katihar and Purnea), Kosi (Supaul, Saharsa and Madhepura), Mithila (Darbhanga and Madhuvani), and Tirhut (Muzaffarpur and Sitamarhi) regions of the state.
While the RJD-led Grand Alliance has a clear advantage in the Seemanchal belt, Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, which is contesting 16 of its 20 seats in this phase, may cut into its vote base and even register wins.
In Kosi, the NDA is pinning its hopes on its veterans in the race, such as ministers Bijendra Prasad Yadav (Supaul) and Narendra Narayan Yadav (Alamganj).
The other key candidates in this phase include the JD(U)’s Nikhil Mandal (Madhepura), the grandson of former chief minister and Mandal Commission head B P Mandal; the RJD’s Lovely Anand (Saharsa), the wife of incarcerated former MP Anand Mohan Singh; NDA ally Vikassheel Insaan Party’s leader Mukesh Sahani (Simri Bakhtiarpur); and the Congress’s Subhashini Yadav (Bihariganj), the daughter of veteran Sharad Yadav.
Among the leaders with the most at stake is Sahani, who crossed over to the NDA after storming out dramatically in the middle of a Grand Alliance press conference just before the elections, over differences on seat-sharing with the RJD. The NDA didn’t just welcome the EBC leader with open arms, it gave his VIP as many as 11 seats (five of them are going to polls in the last phase).
Sahani, or the ‘Son of Mallah’ as he likes to call himself, is believed to command a hold among his boatmen (Mallah/Nishad) community. EBCs, forming a substantial 25% of Bihar’s population, spread across the state, are believed to be a JD(U) vote bank. Mallah is hoping he will swing around the Mallahs, who form around 2.5% of the EBCs, to the NDA, cementing a role in the state.
Bihar has not had a pan-Bihar EBC leader since socialist icon Karpoori Thakur. Among Sahanis or Nishads, the state has only seen two important leaders — Bhagwan Lal Sahni and Captain Jai Narayan Prasad Nishad.
In an Assembly bypoll held in October 2019, a VIP candidate had got over 25,000 votes in Simri Bakhtiyarpur, despite it being a triangular contest, which was one reason Sahani picked this seat with a large EBC population apart from Muslims and Yadavs.
While the RJD had won and the JD(U) came second, Sahani says the result was a pointer. “The combined votes of the VIP and JD(U) were much more than the RJD.”
What makes the contest keener is the presence of LJP MP Choudhary Mehboob Ali Kaiser’s son Yusuf Salauddin on an RJD ticket. The Kaiser family had been winning the seat till 2000, after which it has been won consistently by the JD(U)’s Dinesh Chandra Yadav (who is now an MP).
Says Sanjay Soni from Saharsa: “It is the RJD’s Muslim-Yadav combination vs Kaiser’s family legacy vs Sahani. Given the anti-incumbency against Nitish, it is anyone’s game”.
Politics is a relatively new interest for Sahani. A school dropout who studied till Class 8, his first dream had been Bollywood. Starting off as a salesman, he had eventually made an entry into the television and movie industry as a set designer, finally landing big-ticket projects like Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Devdas and Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Later, he had used the instant attention from movie links to gain a following back home in Darbhanga.
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