Two Nishad parties battle for legacy of Phoolan Dev

| | Lucknow
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Two Nishad parties battle for legacy of Phoolan Dev

Monday, 26 July 2021 | PNS | Lucknow


Phoolan Devi, former bandit queen and former Samajwadi Party MP, 20 years after she died, has emerged as a symbol of caste based identity politics of her community-- Nishad. The two Nishad community-based political parties , both allies of Bharatiya Janata Party, one in UP , the Nishad Party and the other in Bihar, Vikassheel Insaan party Phoolan Devi -- are vying with each other to claim the legacy of Phoolan Devi, who is  all set to make a “comeback” in the next Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
Political parties in the state are keen to revive the legacy of Phoolan Devi and win over the Nishad community to which she belonged. Her family members, meanwhile, are fighting their own battles. Phoolan Devi had emerged as an icon of the Nishad community when she avenged her exploitation and humiliation with the Behmai massacre where she gunned down 20 Thakurs on February 14, 1981, in Kanpur Dehat district.
In 1994, the then Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav heading the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party coalition government facilitated her release from Kanpur jail. She later joined the Samajwadi Party and went on to become Member of Parliament twice. She married Umed Singh but her happiness was short-lived and Phoolan was shot dead at her Delhi residence on July 25, 2001. She was only 38. Now with the assembly elections around the corner in Uttar Pradesh, various political outfits are trying to claim Phoolan's legacy. The fledgling Nishad Party led by Sanjay Nishad is trying to revive Phoolan's legacy and seek rightful share for the community.  His son Praveen Nishad is the BJP MP from Khalilabad.
"We want a statue of Phoolan Devi in Gorakhpur. She is an icon and deserves to be respected as one. The Nishad community must be given reservation in the scheduled caste category and all cases against our community members must be withdrawn," he demanded. The Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) of Bihar has gone a step further and is now making a foray into Uttar Pradesh politics, armed with 18 statues of Phoolan Devi that it plans to install in all divisional headquarters of the state.
Chaudhary Lautan Ram Nishad, state president of the VIP, said, “We are being denied permission for installing the statues and the officials say that Phoolan Devi was a criminal. She was not convicted for any crime and was elected to the Lok Sabha twice.”
Lautan Ram Nishad said the Nishad community needs to fortify their political presence in Uttar Pradesh.
"The Nishad community and its sub castes like Mallah, Kevat, Bind, Manjhi, Ghevar, Raikwar and Kawar constitute almost 1.78 crore of the state's population. There are 1.5 lakh members of the community in each of the 160 assembly constituencies but the community has remained in the wings because we did not have a strong leadership till now," he says.
Meanwhile, Mukesh Sahni, president of VIP and minister in Nitish Kumar government in Bihar, who arrived at Varanasi airport on Sunday from Delhi was not allowed to come out of the airport terminal.  He was scheduled to unveil the statue of Phoolan Devi in Ramnagar area of Varanasi. He was later sent to Kolkata by the Varanasi police.
The VIP, in a blatant move to woo the Nishad community in UP, announced that it would install statues of late Phoolan Devi in 18 Nishad-dominated districts of the state. Marking her 20th death anniversary, VIP chief Mukesh Sahni announced that the party would hold a garlanding ceremony at all 18 districts where her statues would be installed. Sahni had launched his party's UP unit on July 2 in Lucknow.

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