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Mukesh Sahani, Bollywood set designer and BJP ally who set his political career on fire

Sahani once used to make sets for big Bollywood films. Then he rose in Bihar politics to become a minister. Now, his career is on the line after ally BJP didn’t take to his attacks kindly.

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Patna: The rags-to-riches story of Mukesh Sahani seems to have come to an end — at least for now — after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar sacked him from the state cabinet as the minister for fisheries and animal husbandry.

For months, Sahani, a Bollywood set designer-turned-politician, was on the target of virtually every Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in Bihar. They were livid with him for a multitude of reasons, the chief of which was his attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in the UP assembly elections.

The BJP leaders had been demanding his removal and CM Kumar finally obliged his senior alliance partners.

Last week, all three MLAs from Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) joined the BJP, leaving the party chief as the sole VIP legislator. He is an MLC — from the BJP’s quota. And his MLC tenure ends in June.

While this seems to have derailed Sahani’s political career completely, he has faced many odds before.

Also read: Modi-Nitish then & now — Two photos, taken 13 yrs apart, reflect ‘cycle that’s moved full circle’

Who is Sahani?

Sahani fled his home in Darbhanga district at the age of 18. “I fled with a friend. We had planned to go to Delhi, but the train for Mumbai came first and so we landed in Mumbai,” Mukesh had earlier told this correspondent.

Starting from a monthly salary of Rs 900, he went to work in making sets for Bollywood movies and then as a contractor for the same. He founded his own company — Mukesh Cineworld Pvt Ltd. Sahani fondly remembered how he clicked photos with superstars Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, when the 2002 blockbuster ‘Devdas’ was being filmed.

It was as rags-to-riches as it gets.

In 2013, he dabbled in politics and supported the BJP. During the 2015 assembly polls, he shared the stage with PM Modi and now-Union Home Minister Amit Shah in election meetings, introduced as a young man who had made it in the Mumbai film industry. 

However, after the assembly polls of 2015, Sahani founded his party, the VIP. A front-page advertisement was released, in which he introduced himself as the “Son of Mallah”. 

The fishermen community Sahani hails from belongs to the Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs). The EBCs constitute an estimated 29 per cent of the population of Bihar. The Mallahs or Nishads are about 4 per cent and have a good presence in Darbhanga, Madhubani, Khagaria and Muzaffarpur districts.

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Life as VIP chief

While launching VIP, Sahani swore that he would be working for the upliftment of his community. He dazzled the community and political parties through use of choppers, luxury buses and allegedly generous supply of money to supporters. A suite was reserved for him throughout the year in the most expensive hotel of Patna.

On 4 November 2018, he held the Nishad Aarakshan Rally at the Gandhi Maidan, pleading for a separate quota for his community. The estimated crowd in the rally was about 2 lakh, which made Bihar political parties sit up to the fact that Sahani not only had access to money but had also become an icon among the youth of his community.

He joined the Opposition Grand Alliance in the run up to 2019 Lok Sabha polls. His party contested three seats under the alliance and drew a blank. 

Like Tejashwi Yadav, Sahani was shocked but remained with the alliance right till the time the Grand Alliance announced its seat-sharing formula for the 2020 assembly polls. He found that no seats had been announced for his party. He accused Yadav of stabbing him in the back and caught the next flight to Delhi to meet Amit Shah. He was offered 11 assembly seats and a commitment for one MLC. 

The 11 seats, however, came with a rider. As many as six of his candidates were picked by the BJP. The VIP won 4 seats but all his MLAs were former BJP leaders owing loyalty to the ruling party and not to Sahani.

Sahani himself lost in the assembly polls but was made an MLC on the BJP quota and became a minister in Bihar.

The undoing

But it was his eagerness to expand his party beyond that proved to be his undoing. The BJP rejected his proposal for seat-sharing in Uttar Pradesh for this year’s assembly polls. Instead, it preferred Sanjay Nishad. 

Sahani went solo and fielded 49 candidates in UP polls. He not only targeted CM Yogi Adityanath but also PM Modi. He brought a full-page advertisement in which he appealed to voters to vote for any party that can defeat BJP.

“After you have targeted PM Modi the question of remaining an ally does not arise,” BJP minister Samrat Choudhary told ThePrint. 

Within days of the UP election results, all VIP MLAs joined the BJP. VIP was denied the Bochha assembly seat where a by-poll is scheduled on 12 April due to the death of the sitting VIP MLA.

On Sunday, CM Nitish Kumar succumbed to BJP pressure and recommended his sacking to the governor.

“Had I wanted to live in comfort I would have stayed in Mumbai. But I want to work for my community,” he told ThePrint, swearing to strengthen his organisation so that other parties seek his alliance.

But Sahani has burnt his bridges with all other parties. Even RJD has closed its doors to him. Politicians point out that Sahani has made too many mistakes a politician normally wouldn’t make. He is 42 years old, still young by political standards. But he is isolated. Maybe, it’s not easy to master the games of both the film industry and Bihar politics.

Also read: From Lalu’s guide to his man, foe & now ally – how Sharad Yadav’s career is tied to RJD boss


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