Uttar Pradesh: The arrival of Azad in Kanshi Ram’s land

Chandrashekhar Azad’s victory signals a shift in Uttar Pradesh’s politics

Updated - June 18, 2024 01:28 pm IST

Published - June 18, 2024 12:33 am IST

Azad Samaj Party (Kanshi Ram) chief Chandrashekhar Azad receives certificate after winning the Lok Sabha elections from Nagina constituency, in Moradabad, on June 04, 2024.

Azad Samaj Party (Kanshi Ram) chief Chandrashekhar Azad receives certificate after winning the Lok Sabha elections from Nagina constituency, in Moradabad, on June 04, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

Chandrashekhar Azad’s emergence as the new Dalit leader in Uttar Pradesh following his resounding victory in Nagina in the just-concluded elections could be a death knell for Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, which once again failed to win a single seat in the State. While Mr. Azad garnered over 51% of votes, BSP’s Surendra Pal Singh barely topped 1%. The passing of the baton could not have been louder or clearer.

It reminded many of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests in December 2019. Back then, most political leaders, including Ms. Mayawati, were shy of being seen with the protestors in Delhi and elsewhere. Not so Mr. Azad. Barely a couple of days after Imam Ahmed Bukhari of Delhi’s historic Jama Masjid had voiced support for the CAA, arguing it did not affect Indian Muslims, Mr. Azad showed up around the time of the Friday prayers at the mosque. Even as the imam peered from behind the window of his room at the mosque, Mr. Azad gave an impassioned call from the steps of the mosque, and thousands of Muslims turned their back on the cleric and rallied behind him. It presented one of the most abiding images of the anti-CAA struggle. Mr. Azad had arrived. Or so thought many who witnessed the huge support he received from the masses that day. Two years later, Time magazine featured him among the 100 Emerging Leaders. Destiny seemed to wait for him with arms outstretched.

Mr. Azad though had to wait for his moment for over four years. In between, there were cases registered against him, including detention by Delhi Police for the Jama Masjid event for which police permission had been denied. Soon after the CAA stir, he founded the Azad Samaj Party (Kanshi Ram), and this June became the party’s first Parliamentarian. His victory, while being heartwarming for Mr. Azad, could prove crucial in the days to come for politics in Uttar Pradesh. In the run-up to the general elections, representatives of the Samajwadi Party had held meetings with Mr. Azad, hoping to bring him into the fold of the INDIA bloc. The meetings did not bear the desired results.

Meanwhile, Mr. Azad — while maintaining a public posture of respect for Ms. Mayawati as a senior Dalit leader — proved to be a good student of Kanshi Ram’s book of politics. He realised the importance of being the voice of the Dalit community. Equally importantly, he realised its electoral limitations too. If he harboured any dreams of making a mark at the State or national level, he would have to bring together Dalits and Muslims. It was this perspicacity that drew him to Delhi’s Jama Masjid in 2019. It was the same ability to look into the future that drew him to Nagina, a constituency with a 20% Dalit and 40% Muslim population.

With both Dalits and Muslims behind him, Mr. Azad’s blueprint was ready. The masses nodded enthusiastically, propelling him to victory while consigning the BSP candidate to the fourth spot. The Samajwadi Party’s Manoj Kumar had to be content with the third place and around 10% votes. The results showed just why the Samajwadi may have cause for concern despite its great comeback in the 18th Lok Sabha election. Historically, the party has been dependent on the support of Muslims and Yadavs for success. This time, it added to the mix other OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits. The new confluence worked everywhere except Nagina. Mr. Azad’s bid to bring Dalits and Muslims on the same page could provide the kind of challenge Ms. Mayawati, and before her, Kanshi Ram presented.

With Nagina, Mr. Azad has announced the arrival of a new Dalit leader to take forward the legacy of Kanshi Ram. It could well mark the end of the Mayawati saga in the State. For more than 40 years, the BSP was seen as the Dalit representative. Ms. Mayawati built the party on the support of the Dalit community but was smart enough to bring Muslims into the fold, followed briefly by Brahmins as she stitched a rainbow coalition ahead of the 2007 elections in the State.

The success in 2007 fuelled hope and ambition. Whispers started about the possibility of Ms. Mayawati rising higher in political echelons. The lady once quipped, “I dream of becoming the Prime Minister, not President.” She spoke too soon. As her juggernaut ground to a halt in Uttar Pradesh, first by the Samajwadi Party in 2012, then the BJP for two consecutive terms under Yogi Adityanath, the BSP’s fortunes sank abysmally. From 206 legislators in 2007 to merely 19 in 2017 and a solitary MLA in 2022, it was a steep fall. Add to that zero MPs in 2024. Even as Ms. Mayawati gropes for reasons for her defeat, Mr. Azad seems poised for a long flight.

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