'Yogi Adityanath is working for one caste only and suppressing the others,' Bihar Minister and NDA ally Mukesh Sahni tells M I Khan.
Ahead of next year's Uttar Pradesh assembly election, Mukesh Sahni, an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance in Bihar, is angry with UP Chief Minister Ajay Mohan Bisht (aka Yogi Adityanath) for not allowing him to unveil Phoolan Devi's statues in India's most populous state.
Sahni is the founder-president of the Vikassheel Insaan Party and the minister for animal husbandry and fisheries in the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government in Bihar.
Phoolan Devi, the late dacoit-turned-politician, is considered an icon in Sahni's backward Nishad community.
Sahni, who has proclaimed himself as the 'son of a Mallah' (the community comprises boatmen and fishermen), was stopped on Sunday, July 25, at Varanasi's Lal Bahadur Shastri airport by the Uttar Pradesh police ahead of a programme to unveil Phoolan Devi's statues.
"The Uttar Pradesh government, led by Yogi Adityanath, is afraid of us because we want to make virangna (braveheart) Phoolan Devi a part of every home," says Sahni.
"Prime Minister Narendra Modi's agenda is 'sabka saath, sabha vikas aur sabka vishwas'. But the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh is behaving differently. This is not good," the Bihar minister adds.
"In Uttar Pradesh, people belonging to backward castes -- particularly the Nishad community and other marginalised sections of society -- have been neglected and ignored. There is no one to listen to their grievances. They have been deprived of their rights," Sahni alleges.
"This latest incident, where they have used force to stop us from unveiling Phoolan Devi's statues, is another unfortunate and condemnable example," says Sahni.
"Yogi Adityanath," the 40-year-old Bollywood set designer-turned-politician adds, "is working for one caste only and suppressing the others."
"Virangna Phoolan Devi's fight against the injustice perpetrated by powerful people belonging to a particular caste has encouraged, motivated and inspired thousands. The Uttar Pradesh government is uncomfortable with this and has used force to prevent us from installing her statues," he says.
"We will work hard in Uttar Pradesh and reach every house with Phoolan Devi's message. We will create awareness and mobilise the poor and backward people."
Sahni has made it clear that, sooner or later, his party will install statues of Phoolan Devi in all the major cities and towns in Uttar Pradesh. "We have taken a vow and we will fulfil it."
Sahni -- who describes Phoolan Devi as a martyr -- says his party will contest in 165 of the 403 UP assembly seats next year. "We have not yet decided if we will join hands with like-minded parties. But it is a strong possibility."
He has decided to project the UP police action against the unveiling as a grave injustice meted out to Phoolan Devi's community. Political watchers say this may help create a space for Sahni in UP's tough caste-ridden political landscape ahead of the UP assembly polls in March.
Sahni has received support from former Bihar CM and Hindustani Awam Morcha chief Jitan Ram Manjhi. The Hindustani Awam Morcha is also an NDA ally.
"Manjhi has condemned the seizure of Phoolan Devi's statues and police action against us and supported our stand. This is a huge morale booster," says Saini who says he is also grateful to former UP chief minister and Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav and former Bihar deputy chief minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav for paying tribute to Phoolan Devi.
According to Sahni, the Nishad community has a strong presence in Uttar Pradesh. "Our community's votes decide who will be the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh," he declares.
Sahni fought the 2015 Bihar assembly election as part of the NDA which was defeated by the newly-minted RJD-Janata Dal-United-Congress Mahagathbandan.
In 2018, he formally launched his party and contested the 2019 Lok Sabha election as part of the Mahagathbandhan, but failed to win a seat.
Last year, ahead of the Bihar assembly polls, Sahni left the Mahagathbandhan and joined hands with the BJP-led NDA after a seat-sharing disagreement with the RJD. After his meeting with BJP leaders in New Delhi, he was given 11 seats; his party won four and, for the first time, made him a presence in Bihar's political game.
A school dropout, Sahni left his village in Darbhanga district at the age of 18 and headed to Mumbai to try his luck in Bollywood. He struggled for years before establishing himself as a set designer.
Sahni says he entered politics to empower and work for his community. When asked why he gave up his career in Bollywood, he replies, "I am here because my heart beats for my poor and backward community in Bihar and I want to help them. I know what struggle is; I have struggled a lot in my early life."
Since his party is successfully established in Bihar, Sahni says he will now work for the poor and backward communities in Uttar Pradesh.