Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad was released from Saharanpur jail on Friday, September 14 after the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh withdrew charges under the National Security Act (NSA) against him.
However, if the BJP government had hoped to reach out to him and Scheduled Castes with this gesture, it was in for a disappointment: Chandrashekhar Azad alias ‘Ravan’, speaking to journalists after his release, announced his intention to work for uprooting the Narendra Modi government at the Centre in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Azad alias Ravan was charged under the draconian National Security Act in connection with the Saharanpur caste violence case and jailed in June 2017. News18, citing sources, reported that that Uttar Pradesh government has decided to release the Dalit leader as “BJP’s move to reach out to the community ahead of 2019 elections”.
The state government on Thursday revoked the NSA charges against Chandrashekhar alias Ravan and ordered his early release after considering a representation submitted by his mother.
The Bhim army chief received a heroic welcome outside the jail by his cadre members, who had gathered in huge numbers since Thursday night.
“I would like to urge all the Dalits to fight for their rights, no matter if they have to take to streets. Dalits should be ready to take what is given to them in the Constitution. I will continue to urge people to uproot this dictator BJP government,” Chandrashekhar said.
Speaking out against the BJP, the ruling party both at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh, Azad said, “Voting for the BJP is jeopardising your future generations. Now I have come back, I will appeal to everyone in the country that they should not vote for BJP in 2019 under any circumstance.”
“They did not allow me to be treated when I was unwell in jail. They did not allow me to meet my family. Was not given proper food. They committed atrocities against us in jail. Whatever they did to us, we will return to them with interest in 2019,” Azad added.
He would back Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, who is set to be part of the joint opposition front against BJP in Lok Sabha elections. He said that he has no differences with Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati whatsoever and she is more like ‘Bua’ (aunt) to him. Azad said that she had been ‘fighting for the rights of the Dalits’.
The Bhim Army chief said he will not allow communal forces to come to power. “I will not allow communal forces to come to power once again. There is still time, there will be alliances. We will see what happens. But, the BJP will not be allowed to come to power.”
He said the government released him only because it was “scared” of being “rebuked by the Supreme Court” and may soon frame some charges against him.
“Government was so scared that they are going to be rebuked by the Supreme Court, that they ordered an early release to save themselves,” news agency ANI quoted ‘Ravan’ as saying.
“The fight has just begun against the people who have misused the government machinery. The protest of April 2 was non-violent, but how did 11 people die? The BJP is like a double-mouthed snake. They can’t be trusted. Everybody is facing atrocities barring capitalists,” he said, while speaking to media outside the Saharanpur Jail.
The Bhim Army will organise once more and hit the streets to protest against atrocities on Dalits, Azad said. “We will protest against the detention of Dalits for the April 2 violence. We want these cases to be withdrawn. We will not step back. Even if we are put behind bars again. Even if they book us under NSA again.”
Commenting on his own political future, “Chandrashekhar will not contest the elections,” he said referring to himself in the third person.
According to reports, the NSA was withdrawn before time on ‘sympathy grounds’, citing the application by his mother.
However, political experts see it as BJP’s attempt to reach out to Dalits, especially as it comes just weeks after the saffron party faced Dalit ire for Supreme Court’s alleged dilution of the SC/ST Act.
The BJP has made a concerted attempt to chip away at caste combinations that are held as key voter base of opposition Congress, Samajwadi Party and particularly the Bahujan Samaj Party after losing the bypoll in Kairana to the joint opposition candidate Tabassum Hasan.
The Bhim Army chief had also announced his support for Hasan. She had won by around 44,000 votes, in a major jolt to the BJP.
Chandrashekhar was arrested, along with two others, in connection with the clashes in Saharanpur in May 2017, when a Dalit group had objected to a procession of Thakurs in Shabbirpur to mark the birth anniversary of Rajput king Maharana Pratap. One person was killed in the violence and over 15 injured.
He was granted bail by the Allahabad High Court in November 2017 before the government detained him under the NSA.
Azad filed a petition before the Allahabad High Court earlier this year, asking for the detention order to be quashed. In May, the high court dismissed his petition, finding no illegality in the detention order.