UP Bypolls: Consolidating Nishad Vote Key to Winning Gorakhpur
Akhilesh Yadav’s invitation to Praveen Kumar Nishad to contest the Gorakhpur bypoll on a Samajwadi Party (SP) ticket will be seen as a political masterstroke coupled with the tactical alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
The bypoll was necessitated after Yogi Adityanath – a five-time Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Gorakhpur – was appointed as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 2017. The contest would’ve been considered a foregone conclusion had it not been for Yadav’s decision to pit Nishad of the NISHAD Party against the BJP’s Upendra Dutt Shukla.
At around 11:30 am, the SP wrested the lead from the BJP in a seat that’s been the latter’s bastion for the last 25 years. The neck and neck contest was over by 1 pm, when the Samajwadi Party made good on its lead, by about 14,000 votes.
Emergence of the Nishads as a Political Bloc
Praveen Kumar Nishad is the son of Dr Sanjay Nishad, the president of the NISHAD (Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal) Party, which was founded only in 2016. The party represents the dominant boating community of Gorakhpur.
A protege of Kanshi Ram, Dr Nishad left the BSP to form the NISHAD Party just ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections and fielded candidates in all the seats in alliance with three other regional parties – Peace Party (led by Mohammad Ayyub), Apna Dal (Krishna Patel faction) and Jan Adhikar Party (founded by sacked BSP leader and National Rural Health Mission scam accused Babu Singh Kushwaha).
According to a report in The Hindu, in the 2017 Assembly polls, the NISHAD Party secured 5.40 lakh votes in the 72 seats it contested, mostly in Purvanchal (eastern Uttar Pradesh).
A prominent OBC caste, the Nishads form 14 percent of the state’s population and are believed to have voted for the BJP en bloc in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Their livelihoods are primarily linked to the river and many of them are boatmen with surnames like Kewat, Bind, Mallah and Manjhi.
Nishads, along with the Kurmis and Kushwahas have been crucial to the BJP’s UP strategy, which rests on wooing non-Yadav OBCs. In Gorapkhpur alone, there are about three lakh members belonging to the Nishad community, making them the second largest community after the Brahmins.
On paper, the SP+ BSP + Nishad Party + Peace Party alliance brought together an unbeatable combination of Yadav + Dalit + non-Yadav OBC and Muslim votes.
Nishads Key to Winning Gorakhpur
In the first two elections won by him in 1998 and 1999, Adityanath was up against Samajwadi Party’s Jamuna Nishad. According to an Election Commission report, in his maiden election, Adityanath won by 26,206 votes. In 1999, however, the margin was reduced to 7,339 votes only. During subsequent elections in 2004 and 2009, however, the Nishad votes got distributed when, along with the SP, the BSP also fielded a Nishad candidate, Pradeep Kumar Nishad.
In 2014, Adityanath defeated Rajmati Nishad, wife of Jamuna Nishad by more than 3 lakh votes. Ram Bhuwal Nishad, who was with the BSP at the time (now with SP) secured 1,76,412 votes.
As of 3:30 pm, SP’s Praveen Kumar Nishad was leading by 28,737 votes against the BJP’s Upendra Dutt Shukla, whose candidature incidentally, was announced before the SP-NISHAD Party alliance was formalised.
This was the first election in which a representative of the Gorakhpeeth did not represent the BJP in Gorakhpur. Adityanath succeeded his mentor Mahant Avaidyanath who held the seat prior to 1998.