Bhim Army chief Chandra Shekhar Azad’s victory in Nagina has stirred the pot of Bahujan politics in Uttar Pradesh

With the INDIA bloc not lending a helping hand, and the NDA being off-limits, Azad Samaj Party (Kanshiram) chief and Nagina MP Chandra Shekhar Azad aims to create a niche for his party

Updated - June 11, 2024 11:01 am IST

Published - June 09, 2024 05:27 am IST - Ghaziabad

Azad Samaj Party (ASP) (Kanshi Ram) candidate and Bhim Army chief Chandra Shekhar Azad.

Azad Samaj Party (ASP) (Kanshi Ram) candidate and Bhim Army chief Chandra Shekhar Azad. | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

From a street fighter to a Parliamentarian, Chandra Shekhar Azad has come a long way in a decade-long career and his victory in Nagina has stirred the pot of Dalit politics in the State with around 21% Scheduled Caste population that has been ruled by a Dalit Chief Minister four times. However, despite winning the reserved seat by a handsome margin, neither the Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) nor the National Democratic Alliance blocs have acknowledged Mr. Azad’s accomplishment.

Unperturbed, Mr. Azad has said he would maintain equal distance from both alliances and continue to raise his voice if there is any injustice done to the underprivileged and deprived sections in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) orin the Opposition-run States. Refusing to be bracketed just as a Dalit face, he expected the media to address him like any other Parliamentarian.

The BJP and its allies had won 15 out of 17 reserved seats in U.P. in 2019. This time the number has come down to eight with Samajwadi Party (SP) securing seven and Congress registering a handsome victory in Barabanki. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won two seats in 2019 including Nagina. This time its candidate has finished fourth and lost his deposit. In three Assembly segments of Nagina Lok Sabha where the SP won in the 2022 Assembly election, the Azad Samaj Party (Kanshiram) was ahead.

Party sources say that they fought the election against the BJP but were surprised by the cold attitude of the INDIA bloc. “It seems they fear Azad’s popularity among Dalits and backward Muslims,” a party leader said. The same attitude, he said, was shown towards Pappu Yadav (Rajesh Ranjan) in Bihar. 

A section of the SP sees Mr. Azad as a plant of the BJP who was given Y+ security just in March end this year after he could not garner the support of the INDIA alliance. “He is the Dalit equivalent of [Asaduddin] Owaisi. The BJP doesn’t take action against them and a section of media presents them as the sole representatives of their respective communities to polarise the society because both make provocative statements that make headlines,” a SP leader said.

But unlike Mr. Owaisi who is based in Hyderabad, it is hard to cast aspersions on Mr. Azad because Bhim Army, the social base of ASP (K), with its countrywide membership of one crore, is present in most U.P. villages and Mission 78, its ideological arm, has teachers and retired government officials many of whom have the training of BAMCEF (The All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation) that enriched Bahujan Samaj Party over the years.

Kanishka Singh, a senior leader of ASP (K), said that had Mr. Azad been a BJP stooge, Muslims would not have voted for him in such large numbers. The Nagina constituency has around 43% Muslim population. “The SP didn’t want Mr. Azad to develop a base among backward Muslims. But the community knows that he took to the streets during anti-NRC protests while Akhilesh Yadav didn’t come out,” he said.

Interestingly, SP sources say Mr. Azad was offered to win Agra, the Dalit capital, for the INDIA bloc but he had eyes on Nagina which has more Muslim population than that of SCs.

Mr. Azad’s long-term plan also overlaps with the SP’s caste calculus in this election that has paid rich dividends.

This time, political observers, say the SP has followed Kanshiram’s formula of Bahujan politics where the political power is principally shared with SCs and the backward. Out of 37 SP MPs that are going to the Lok Sabha this time, 28 belong to Dalit and OBC communities and four are Muslims. Among the Dalits, the SP has focussed on non-Jatav SCs with five Pasi candidates making the cut.

Notably, Mayawati had moved away from the Bahujan matrix to the Sarvajan formula where, ideologically, the pie of power is shared with all but practically it worked as a pact between Dalits and the upper castes. This attitude miffed the backward and the way Ms. Mayawati let the OBCs leaders like Om Prakash Rajbhar, Swami Prasad Maurya, and Dara Singh Chauhan drift away from the party, it eroded BSP’s OBC base and impacted its electoral prospects.

“It also created an impression that the upper castes are funding the party. And when someone brings in large sums of money, his commitment to the mission gets diluted,” a BSP leader from West U.P. who is contemplating shifting to ASP said.

Mr. Azad believes in the Kanshiram formula where the party would raise the voice for the underprivileged in all communities but would not share power with the upper castes. His supporters say that they fought the Nagina election on ‘one note, one vote’ slogan and it could be applied when the party will contest a large chunk of seats in the State.

Mr. Singh said the SP had done them a favour by not lending its support and keeping us away from the Congress. “We have realised our strength and now we will contest all the nine assembly seats that will go for byelection in the coming months.”

In Saharanpur, the home district of Mr. Azad, one found that young Dalit voters were inclined towards him. “We love him for the way he took up the case of the Hathras rape victim and stood up for the family of the teen who was shot down by the police in Rampur,” was a common refrain in the region. The elders talked of days when Mayawati made Dalits confident enough to enter police stations and have their say. Azad, they say, is showing the same courage at a time when the BSP is losing its hold on power. However, many of them still wanted to give Ms. Mayawati one more chance. “This is the last time we are reposing faith in her. We see Azad as her successor,” Surinder, a young Dalit student, told this journalist in Chhutmalpur, Mr. Azad’s hometown. He said peaceful protest and standing up to official apathy is also a constitutional right. ”Behenji has ceded this space,” he stated.

Bareilly-based BAMCEF member Ghamandi Singh said Dalit youth are looking towards Mr. Azad as their future leader. “Akhilesh has to walk the talk. Otherwise, the shift is temporary and has happened because Mayawati was not in a position to defeat the BJP and protect the community from the threat to the Constitution and reservation. We are not fool enough to believe that the BJP would change the constitutional provisions but it would have weakened them,” he said.

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