The boatmen community is spread evenly across Uttar Pradesh, and constitutes nearly 13 per cent of the electorate.
Lucknow: As the battle for the last two phases of Lok Sabha polls intensifies in Uttar Pradesh, the focus once again seems to be shifting to the Nishad community with the BJP and the Congress trying to woo the boatmen.
The boatmen community is spread evenly across the state and constitutes nearly 13 per cent of the electorate.
Some of the major sub-castes of boatmen community are Nishad, Bind, Mallah, Kewat, Kashyap, Dhuria, Raikwar, Dheemar, Batham, Manjhi and Saini, said UP Backward Class Finance and Development Corporation chairperson Baburam Nishad.
"As far as Lok Sabha seats are concerned, the community can swing the poll fortune in around 20 out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state, he added.
Parties have been referring to the community in their campaign speeches.
BJP President Amit Shah had made a categorial reference to the work being done by the BJP-led state government for the community.
Prior to this Prime Minister Narendra Modi had eulogized the boatmen community during his visit to Kumbh in Prayagraj. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra took the boat route to test the political water of the state, which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
On Thursday, Shah promised to build an 80-feet tall statue of Nishadraj in Shringverpur in Allahabad district.
Addressing a series of rallies in Balrampur, Siddharthanagar, Sant Kabirnagar and Sultanpur on Thursday, Shah said, "The place where the Kewat (boatman) had washed the feet of Lord Ram, the government of Yogi Adityanath will construct a 80-feet-tall statue of Nishadraj.
"A grand memorial for Nishadraj worth Rs 34 crore will be built at Shringverpur, Shah added.
According to folklore, it was at Shringverpur -- 45 km from Allahabad on Lucknow Road -- that Lord Rama crossed the River Ganga on his way to exile along with Sita and Lakshman.
Shringverpur is mentioned as the capital of the famous kingdom of Nishadraj or the 'King of Fishermen'. The excerpt 'Sita, Ram and his brother came to Shringverpur' can be found in the epic Ramayan.
It is said boatmen refused to let the trio cross the river following which Nishadraj visited the site to resolve the issue. He offered to give them way only if Lord Rama let him wash his feet.
The permission was granted and it is mentioned that Nishadraj washed Lord Rama's feet with the water of Ganga and drank it to show his reverence towards him.
The place where Nishadraj washed the lord's feet has been marked by a platform and has been named 'Ramchura'.
Prime Minister Modi, while addressing the Swachh Kumbh, Swachh Aabhaar programme in Allahabad on February 24, had described himself as the boatmen's 'pradhan sevak'.
Boatmen play an important role during Kumbh. There is a strong relationship between Prayagraj and boatmen. They are dedicated soldiers of Maa Ganga. Without them, the Ramayana of Lord Rama is incomplete, the prime minister had said.
Lord Rama, by whose benevolence everyone's boat sails through, his boat was ferried by our naavik friends. I share a deep relationship with you...You call yourself 'Gangaputra', I have come on the call of Maa Ganga to serve you, he had said.
Earlier in March, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra began her 'Ganga Yatra' on boat, while seeking to navigate the Congress towards regaining its lost political moorings in UP and reached out to voters urging them to bring a government that works for them.
River Ganga is a symbol of truth and equality. It is also a symbol of our Ganga-Jamuna tehzeeb (culture). It does not differentiate among people. Gangaji is the lifeline of Uttar Pradesh and with her support I will reach you, she had said in an open letter on March 17.
Baburam Nishad said, "Some of the Lok Sabha seats, where the boatmen and fishermen community could swing the polls are Firozabad, Badaun, Shahjahanpur, Kairana, Machhlishahr and Jaunpur".
In Ghazipur, Phulpur, Sitapur, Jalaun, Fatehpur, Unnao, Gorakhpur, Ballia and Deoria the Nishad community has a significant presence as well, he added.
The importance, which the saffron party accords to the Nishad community, can be gauged from the fact that it fielded Praveen Kumar Nishad from Sant Kabir Nagar by dropping its sitting MP Sharad Mani Tripathi.
Nishad had won the Gorakhpur seat in a bypoll as the SP candidate and he was supported by the BSP, under the grand alliance between the two parties.
The Gorakhpur seat had fallen vacant after BJP MP Yogi Adityanath was elected as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Praveen is son of Sanjay Nishad who heads the NISHAD (Nirbal Indian Shoshit Hamara Aam Dal) party.