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Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Political parties woo boatmen for success in UP

The people from this community essentially inhabit areas close to rivers and are mostly boatmen and fishermen. According to experts, less than 10% of them are literate and that hasn’t helped them get into the development mainstream.

lok sabha elections Updated: Mar 31, 2019 11:57 IST
K Sandeep Kumar
K Sandeep Kumar
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
lok sabha elections,boatmen voters
Congress party General Secretary and eastern Uttar Pradesh state in-charge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, center, takes a boat ride to the Sangam, the confluence of sacred rivers the Yamuna, the Ganges and the mythical Saraswati, in Prayagraj, India, Monday, March 18, 2019. Gandhi kicked off her election campaign with a three day Ganges river ride to Varanasi. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)(AP)

Many a political party, including the SP-BSP coalition, BJP and the Congress, is looking to the boatmen community to row them to victory in Uttar Pradesh.

Their focus on the community stems from the fact that in the heavily caste-based identity politics that dominates the huge state of 80 parliamentary seats, around 20-odd constituencies in the Hindi heartland, including Gorakhpur, Sultanpur, Bhadoi, Sant Kabir Nagar, Ghazipur, Phulpur, Sitapur, Jalaun, Fatehpur, Unnao, Ballia, Deoria and Mirzapur, have a significant presence of the boatmen community. “They are enough to swing election results on the basis of their sheer numbers,” said political analyst and former vice-chancellor of Uttar Pradesh Rajarshi Tandon Open University (UPRTOU), Prayagraj, MP Dube.

He said that the many sub-castes that form the community includes Kewat, Mallah, Nishad, Kashyap, Dhimar, Manjhi, Jal Kshatri, Dhuria, Kharwar, Kahar, Majhwar, Bind, Bhar, Prajapati, Rajbhar, Batham, Gaur, Tura, Kumhar, and Machua etc.

“The members of the community constitute around 4.5% of the total state’s population. The fact that they have consolidated their votes by getting better organised under a single banner for their demands and rights and avoided getting scattered behind different political parties, has made the community in UP suddenly assume importance for various political parties. With the 2019 polls expected to witness many close fights, these parties are viewing the community as a vital vote bank and are therefore going all out to woo them,” Dube added.

He said that the importance of the boatmen community in polls can also be gauged from the fact that in UP, members of most sub-castes of the community come under the OBC category and a rough caste break-up of the vote base in the state has OBC at 37%, Sawarn or upper caste at 23%, SC/ST at 20% and Muslim and others at 20%.

The people from this community essentially inhabit areas close to rivers and are mostly boatmen and fishermen. According to experts, less than 10% of them are literate and that hasn’t helped them get into the development mainstream.

“In the state, the SP-BSP alliance had entered into a partnership with Nishad Party and even agreed to give two seats to it but within three days disagreement over seat distribution, the Nishad (Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal) Party chief Sanjay Nishad walked out of the deal and is now dealing with the BJP for a possible poll alliance,” said another poll analyst Abhay Awasthi.

Even Congress general secretary and the party’s East UP in-charge Priyanka Gandhi, during her boat-ride campaign from Prayagraj to Varanasi, tried to focus on the boatmen and fishermen communities residing along the Ganga, he pointed out.

Awasthi said that touching 26 districts of Uttar Pradesh right from Bijnor to Ballia, the Ganga travels roughly over 1,100 km in UP, while the Yamuna covers 18 districts of the state—the banks of which have members of the boat and fishermen community residing for decades. Banks of other prominent rivers of the state Tonse, Ghagra and Gomti etc also have them in significant numbers, he said.

The importance of the boatmen community for electoral success was well understood by SP patron Mulayam Singh Yadav who had fielded former dacoit Phoolan Devi belonging to the Mallah community from Mirzapur. His government also withdrew all cases against her and summarily released her from prison. She won the election and served as an MP during the term of the 11th Lok Sabha (1996-98). She lost her seat in the 1998 election but was re-elected in the 1999 election and was serving on the seat till her assassination in July 2001, Awasthi reminded.

However, after her, no leader from the community has managed to reach the same heights, though a few like Capt (retd) Nai Narain Prasad Nishad from Muzaffarpur, who served as a union minister of state (1996-99) and Ajay Nishad, who became an MP from the same seat, have also made their mark.

First Published: Mar 31, 2019 11:57 IST