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BJP’s Mallah reach out suits its OBC, Hindutva politics

BJP’s Mallah reach out suits its OBC and Hindutva politics

Representative image. Credit: Reuters Photo

By nominating Jai Prakash Nishad for the Rajya Sabha by-election from Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has made one more conscious effort to reach out to the Mallah or Kevat (boatmen) community, which has nearly 5% votes and influences result in over 100 Assembly segments in the state.

The RS by-election, which is scheduled to be held on August 24, was necessitated following the demise of Samajwadi Party’s Beni Prasad Verma, who hailed from the Kurmi community, the second most dominant OBC community in UP after Yadavs.

Nishad is a former BSP legislator. He joined the saffron party like several other leaders from his community after the BJP government came to power at Centre in 2014.

Former Rajya Sabha MP Narendra Kashyap, belonging to the Nishad community, who joined BJP in 2016, said there is a need to give “more representation” to Mallah in politics and the community look towards the BJP with more anticipation. “There are 100 Assembly seats in the state, where the number of Mallah voters range from 15,000 to 70,000 and they can tilt the results either way. They are divided into 27 sub-castes and are known as Kashyap in Western UP,” he said.

In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to the community while launching 11 solar-powered “e-boats” in Varanasi and named India’s new satellite NAVIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation) to honour the contribution of the “courageous boatmen (naavik)”.

During the 2019 LS polls, the then BJP president Amit Shah promised to build an 80-feet tall statue of Nishadraj in Allahabad.

Mallahs fit into BJP’s Hindutva politics as they have made consistent efforts to widen the party’s political base and make deep inroads in most backward classes (MBCs). The BJP has repeatedly referred to the pantheon of Kevatraj of the Ramayana and even during the August 5 groundbreaking ceremony for the Ram temple, the VHP made reverential references to the Kevatraj’s connection with Lord Ram.

In UP, the most well-known Mallah politician was Phoolan Devi, who after being elected MP for the second time from the Samajwadi Party was shot dead in Delhi in 2001. She had formed the Eklavya Sena to fight for the rights of the community. The Mallahs have been seeking larger political representation for quite some time. In December 2016, several leaders of the community held a protest in the national capital seeking due representation — first a sub-quota within 27% OBC reservation and ultimately SC status.

In June 2019, the Yogi Adityanath government included
Mallahs among 17 castes in the list of Scheduled Castes, a decision which was stayed by the Allahabad High Court.