Patna: Mukesh Sahani, a Bollywood set designer-turned-politician who is a minister in the Nitish Kumar government, is on the target of virtually every Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician in the state.
The BJP is angry with Sahani for targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in the UP assembly elections.
On Sunday, BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel demanded the removal of Sahani, whose political outfit Vikasheel Insaan Party (VIP) was an ally of the BJP in the Bihar assembly polls.
“Either Mukesh Sahani should quit or the CM should sack him. He has made statements against PM Modi and CM Yogi in UP. His party issued an advertisement in newspapers appealing to his community (Nishad) that if they did not vote for his party, they should vote for the party which can defeat BJP. This is against alliance dharma,” Patel told ThePrint.
“Mukesh Sahani has crossed all limits allowed in an alliance. There is nothing left,” said another BJP spokesperson, Arvind Singh.
In the run-up to the 2020 assembly polls, Sahani’s VIP walked out of the Grand Alliance and joined hands with BJP. The party gave him 12 assembly seats to contest from their own quota under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The VIP won four seats but Sahani lost. So, the BJP made him an MLC from its own quota and he became the minister for animal husbandry and fisheries.
Two months ago, one of his MLAs, Musaphir Paswan, died due to illness. The bypoll for the seat is scheduled to be held in April. But this time, the BJP is unwilling to give the seat to him.
“We have our own candidate, who was sitting MLA from that seat before we gave it to the VIP,” said Singh.
Trouble brewed from UP polls
Relations between Sahani and BJP started to falter in the run-up to UP polls. Sahani was hopeful that BJP would give him a few seats, especially in eastern UP, which has a large Nishad population, the community Sahani belongs to.
BJP sources said that CM Yogi Adityanath developed coldness towards Sahani and preferred alliance with Sanjay Nishad’s Nishad Party, which eventually won 6 seats in the UP assembly poll results that were declared on 10 March.
Sahani then fielded 56 of his candidates in the UP polls, declaring that he would remove Adityanath in 2022 and PM Narendra Modi in 2024. All but one of his candidates managed to save their deposits as Sahani drew a blank in the results tally.
The state BJP leaders have been gunning for him ever since.
“How can we spare someone who made derogatory remarks against PM Modi,” BJP minister Samrat Choudhary told ThePrint.
Sahani remains defiant
Sahani is in a tight spot. His MLC tenure ends in June and if he’s not repeated by the BJP, his ministry goes as well. His remaining 3 MLAs are all former BJP leaders and are unlikely to follow him if he is removed.
However, undeterred by the UP results and calls for his dismissal, Sahani has now gone ahead and started a party unit in Jharkhand.
There too, he managed to anger the BJP more by declaring that he believes in the political philosophy of Lalu Prasad, the chief of CM Nitish Kumar’s principal rival Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
The RJD’s response has been cold. “I have heard of it (the stand-off between Sahani and BJP). But I do not have time for these things,” RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav told reporters Saturday.
“What BJP leaders of Bihar say does not matter. The alliance was made after talks with national BJP president J.P. Nadda. Let Nadda ji make a statement that we are no longer a part of the NDA and the alliance will end,” Sahani’s political advisor Dev Jyoti told ThePrint.
“We have been demanding a SC status for the Mallah Community for a long time. The BJP promised us that it would give a SC status to the community but has not done so so far,” Jyoti said.
Who is Mukesh Sahani?
Sahani’s life is a typical rags to riches story. Hailing from a poor ‘Mallah’ (fishermen) family in Darbhanga, he fled to Mumbai at the age of 19. He worked as a labourer at first but then started his own film set production company.
In 2013, he introduced himself to Bihar’s population through a front page advertisement, identifying himself as ‘Son of Mallah’, organising an impressive rally in Patna and moving around in a chopper.
However, he has been a political mover. In 2015, assembly polls he was with BJP, sharing the stage with PM Modi. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, he was with the Opposition Grand Alliance. In the 2020 state elections, he was with the Grand Alliance until seat distribution was announced. Then he left the alliance alleging that Tejashwi Yadav had backstabbed him, and went back to the BJP.
“Mukesh Sahani has lost credibility and nobody trusts him,” said a BJP MLA, who didn’t wish to be named, stressing that the party already has a strong Nishad leader in Muzaffarpur MP Ajay Nishad.
JD(U) mum for now
Nitish Kumar’s ruling Janata Dal (United) is playing it safe on the issue.
“Yes, we have seen statements of BJP leaders demanding his removal, but that decision has to be taken by the NDA leadership. Right now I am not even qualified to make a remark on it,” JD(U) MLC Neeraj Kumar told ThePrint.
However, should the demand come from BJP’s central leadership, the Bihar CM may have no other option but to oblige, JD(U) sources said.