NEW DELHI—Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad pledged his support to Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati, despite the former chief minister steering clear of associating with him.
"I am resolved, now that I'm here, she will become prime minister," Azad said in an interview with HuffPost India, days after he was released from prison after a long period of incarceration under the National Security Act.
Azad expressed his support three days after Mayawati publicly snubbed the 31-year-old Dalit leader from Saharanpur, who had referred to her as his bua. In a press conference in Lucknow, the BSP chief said that she did not consider Azad to be her bhatija. "I want to tell people of his kind that, in reality, I cannot have a relationship with them..." she said.
Mayawati said that Azad's release ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election was a Bharatiya Janata Party conspiracy to divide Dalits in Uttar Pradesh. "As per the BJP's plans, this person who recently came out of jail... is now announcing a relation of bua, and of blood, with me," she said.
Azad, however, blamed BJP and Mayawati's advisers for her hostility towards him. The Dalit leader said that he was determined to change her opinion of him.
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"The BJP is behind this. The BJP wants BSP to be out of the alliance. The BJP is pressurising her with the CBI and with other things. The BJP is scaring her. But she should not be afraid. Her nephew is standing here to support her. I'm willing to make her Prime Minister. She will be the chief of the alliance," Azad said.
"The people who have a secular outlook, the people who talk about Ambedkar and Jyotirao Phule, they all want behenji, our bua ji, to be prime minister. This is the voice of the poor," he said. "She is not angry with me. It is the people who are around her, the people who are scaring her, but she loves me and our people."
I am resolved, now that I'm here, she will become prime minister.
Chandrashekhar Azad versus Mayawati?
For over a year, following caste violence between Jats and Dalits in Saharanpur, which claimed the lives of two men, a Dalit and a Rajput, and left dozens injured in and around Shabbirpur village, Azad was incarcerated by the Yogi Adityanath government in UP under the NSA.
Azad is the national president of the Bhim Army, an organization founded by him in 2014 to work for the emancipation of Dalits.
His sudden release has people questioning the BJP's motive. Will Azad's release divide Dalits between him, a fresh face in UP, and Mayawati, the tallest Dalit leader in the state?
While Mayawati's BSP has had a poor showing in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and 2017 Assembly election in UP, the BJP has successfully pried away non-Jatav Dalits in the state. And six months ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, nothing concrete has emerged when it comes to the alliance between the BSP, Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress. Last month, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said the BJP did not stand a chance in UP, the state which sends 80 lawmakers to Lok Sabha, since a three-way alliance would cover 60% of the electorate in UP.
Even after backing SP in three Lok Sabha by-polls in UP, Mayawati has been sending mixed signals about the alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha election. In fact, the BSP supremo recently called for her party to contest on all 80 seats.
Will Azad's release divide Dalits between him, a fresh face in UP, and Mayawati, the tallest Dalit leader in the state?
Azad wants a Mayawati-led alliance
Ahead of the Kairana by-poll in May, Azad had called on the "Bahujan Samaj" not to vote for the BJP. Local observers say the Bhim Army's efforts to mobilise Dalit and Muslim voters in two Assembly constituencies of Kairana, Nakud and Gangoh, which fall in Saharanpur, the Bhim Army's bastion, contributed to BJP's defeat.
Azad believes a Mayawati-led alliance in UP is necessary to beat the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. "We are ready to make her the alliance president and then prime minister. In all circumstances, we will be in the alliance and work for the BSP," he said.
Both the Congress and SP have welcomed his release.
When it was pointed out that Mayawati did not support him when he was incarcerated, Azad said, "The people around her are giving wrong advice. She does not know everything about me and that is why she is opposing me. But she always opposes the wrong thing. I think she is slowly realising that I'm her blood, I'm her nephew and I'm right."
I think she is slowly realising that I'm her blood, I'm her nephew and I'm right.
Modi can be beaten
Azad believes defeating the BJP in the 2019 election is well within the realm of possibility. "When the public wants it can change a huge government, this is a small government," he said. "This is a simple election between those who are for the Constitution and those who are against it. Those who are for the Constitution should be in the alliance."
On whether Modi's charm offensive will work in 2019, Azad said, "Modi came before the Kairana election. He did a roadshow. What was the result? BJP lost."
It is worth noting that at estimated 5.2 lakh, Muslims are the largest chunk of Kairana's estimated 16 lakh voters. Local observers believe that Jat farmers in sugarcane belt of UP, who voted for the BJP in the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013, may have turned against the ruling party over the money owed to them by the sugarcane mills.
Azad, however, believes the BJP lost because the "common man" has seen through Modi.
"The common man has understood. A government that is favouring capitalists cannot be for the common man. The BJP used to talk about rising prices, about corruption, about the common man, but now see where prices have risen. The dollar has gone to Rs. 72, petrol has gone to Rs. 80. They made false promises about giving two crore jobs," he said.
Azad believes no single party can beat the BJP. "No party, however strong, can stand against the BJP because BJP is in all the states and has an advantage. BJP will play with the EVM (Electronic Voting Machine)," he said.
Modi came before the Kairana election. He did a roadshow. What was the result? BJP lost.
Not a challenger to the BSP
Azad does not want to be seen as a threat to Mayawati. In fact, he does not like being called a "young leader".
"This title of young leader is wrong. I'm not a young leader. I'm the common man and I speak of the common man. The common man wants change. The common man does not want such a communal government which wants to divide the country. The Dalits are suffering, innocent Muslims are being played with, they are being attacked and the people who attack them are felicitated by ministers. I'm not a leader. I'm a sevak. It is just that media knows me a little bit now and that is why people and come and ask me whether I can communicate this to the media."
Mayawati, when she attacked Azad, said that if he supported the Dalit movement then he would have joined the BSP instead of forming a separate outfit.
Azad said that he does not want to join politics, but if he did, he would have joined the BSP. "If I wanted to do politics then I would have joined the BJP. I'm a social activist and people like me this way," he said.
Furthermore, Azad explained why it was hard form him to join politics.
"A political party needs support from everyone, not just one caste. But what happens on the ground is that when there is an atrocity, a caste has to take a stand, and that is when political parties get scared. There are lot of atrocities against Dalits in which even BSP workers cannot come out on the street. There is also pressure from the government in favour of certain groups. That is why we have to scream — give us justice," he said.
The Bhim Army chief continued, "My fight is not against any caste. This country is for everyone, everyone has to live here. My fight is only against those people who are committing atrocities. But in politics, sometimes you have to keep your mouth shut, sometimes you see a wrong thing but still have to keep shut, I cannot keep shut. That is why I don't want to join politics. I'm doing social service and I can speak clearly."
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