The move was not unexpected. Though Mukesh Sahni met BJP chief Amit Shah on Tuesday evening, he has said that the Nishads are "disillusioned" with the BJP after supporting it in the last Bihar elections. He had met Mr Shah, he said, to "leverage the best deal for his community".
Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) has won his pledge of support, the 34-year-old Mr Sahni said, by supporting a long-standing demand for Scheduled Tribe status for the Nishads and promising them greater political representation.
"Nishad" is a collective identity for more than 20 sub-castes, including the Mallahs or boatmen, whose livelihood was traditionally linked to the river. As almost 10% of what is called the extremely backward castes or EBC, the Nishads are seen as an important votebank in Bihar's caste-dominated politics.
The Mallahs are about 5 per cent of Bihar's population.
Mukesh Sahni, has been compared to 21-year-old Hardik Patel, who is leading an agitation for reservation in Gujarat, after he organised a massive Nishad rally in Patna last week, which ended in his supporters clashing with the police. Much like Hardik Patel's rally in Ahmedabad had last month.
Mr Sahni belongs to a Mallah family in Darbhanga. At 18, he left for Mumbai and struggled for years before establishing a successful event management company and has even produced a film.
He returned about six months ago, flush with funds, and embarked on a rath yatra to mobilise the Nishads.
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