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Journalism of Courage

Bollywood to Bihar, Mukesh Sahani – a man with a design

Rowing in the NDA boat, with 11 seats as part of the alliance, Mukesh Sahani, the set designer-turned-politician, has played his 'Son of Mallah' card well

Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) head Mukesh Sahani

When Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) head Mukesh Sahani walked out in the middle of a Grand Alliance press conference last week, over differences on seat-sharing with the RJD, he knew very well that his next destination would be the NDA. The BJP and JD(U) had already signed up a deal with former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha – Secular (HAM-S), indicating the alliance was keeping doors open for new partners.

Sahani, or the ‘Son of Mallah’ as he likes to call himself, brings to the NDA table the Extremely Backward Class vote of his boatmen community. EBCs comprise about 30% of the state’s voters, with Sahani (Mallah/Nishad) forming around 4.5% of it and often considered “floating voters” wooed by all parties. Sahani, 40, sees an opening to fill a crucial gap, with Bihar not having seen one 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.

Even back in 2015, the BJP realised Sahani’s value, and got him to campaign in the Assembly elections. He fell out after the NDA government failed to keep his demand to include Sahanis among Scheduled Castes. In July 2018, Sahani floated the VIP.

The RJD-led Grand Alliance had offered the VIP three seats to contest in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as part of its umbrella. However, in the Modi wave of last year’s general election, when the NDA had swept Bihar’s 39 of 40 seats, Sahani too had failed to win, losing from Khagaria in Munger. Since then, like other smaller parties, the distance between the VIP and the Grand Alliance leadership had been growing.

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Politics is a relatively new interest for Sahani. A school dropout who studied till Class 8, his first dream had been Bollywood, and he left hometown Supaul Bazar town in Darbhanga at the age of 19 to try his luck in Mumbai. Starting off as a salesman, he had eventually made an entry into the television and movie industry as a set designer. His company Mukesh Cine World Private Limited had even landed big-ticket projects like Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Devdas (2002) and Salman Khan-starrer Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015).

The movie links had gained him instant attention back home. As per Sahani, people urged him to do “something for the community” when he organised Chhath on a grand scale in 2008. He founded the Sahani Samaj Kalyan Sanstha in 2010, holding meetings and drawing enough crowds to fuel political ambitions.

With the BJP setting aside 11 seats for the VIP from its share in the NDA, Sahani might have found a home for himself — at least for some time.

First published on: 13-10-2020 at 15:20 IST
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