Buaji (Mayawati) may have some issues with me, I have none with her: Bhim Army Chief

An Interview of Chandrashekhar , Bhim Army Chief and a Dalit leader from Uttar Pradesh who was recently released from the jail.

Background for understanding the political meaning behind the release of Chandrashekhar—–

It’s still unclear what repercussions to Chandrashekhar’s release will have on Dalit politics in the state. After all, the Bharatiya Janata Party is opposed sharply by many Dalits so this release isn’t likely to win it much goodwill. But it could make gains by splitting Dalit opinion, since the Bhim Army squarely challenges the Bahujan Samaj Party’s claims to being the sole voice of the community.

The clashes between Dalits and Thakurs for which Azad was arrested had its roots in an incident in Shabbirpur village in Saharanpur on May 5, 2017. They occured after the village’s Dalits prevented Thakurs from marching in a procession on the birth anniversary of Rajput king Maharana Pratap. The Dalits were retaliating against a similar blockade by Thakurs a month earlier, when members of their community were prevented from celebrating the birth anniversary of Babarao Ambedkar.

Enraged by what they saw an impertinence by Dalits, groups of Thakurs sacked Shabbirpur’s Dalit quarter. Dalits alleged that there was assaulted, their homes set fire too and even their temples desecrated. Thakurs, in turn, claim that Dalits killed one person, though the Dalits insist the man accidentally suffocated to death while torching Dalit homes.

In response to the violence, the Bhim Army organised a protest meet in Saharanpur town on May 9. Clashes between the police and protestors followed, with each side blaming the other for starting the violence. In the melee, protestors attacked a Maharana Pratap memorial in the city. Later on, videos emerged of policemen being beaten up by mobs.

Police crackdown

The violence led to a crackdown on the Bhim Army. The Saharanpur police even announced that an investigation would be carried out to determine whether the Bhim Army had links with Maoist groups. In the meanwhile, Chandrashekhar, the group’s charismatic head, went into hiding. He emerged dramatically at a large raly in Delhi a fortnight later. He was finally arrested in June, 2017.

In November, however, the Allahabad High Court rubbished the Uttar Pradesh government’s contention that Chandrashekhar had organised the May 9 violence. Describing the charges as “politically motivated”, the court granted bail to the founder of the Bhim Army in various cases of rioting. Unable to detain Chandrashekhar under the initial charges of rioting, the Uttar Pradesh government turned to the draconian National Security Act, which gives the authorities the powers of preventive detention.

Political background

The Uttar Pradesh government’s sudden decision to release Chandrashekhar needs to be seen in context of the state’s current political sitution. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has been under constant attack from sections of the Dalit community. During a strike on April 2 by Dalits protesting the dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by the Supreme Court, allegations of police brutality were heard across several North Indian states. Scrambling to contain the fallout, the Modi government decided to pass a bill reversing the Supreme Court order.

Dalit anger against the BJP was one the reasons cited by commentators for the party losing its Kairana Lok Sabha seat in a May bye-poll. Located in western Uttar Pradesh, Kariana abuts Saharanpur.

The other political factor at play is the Bahajan Samaj Party and its alliance with the Samajwadi Party, which has the BJP on the backfoot in the state. Given the Bhim Army’s belligerent politics, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and Chandrashekhar have clashed in the recent past. Mayawati was slow to demand Chandrashekhar’s release and, in fact, even accused the Bhim Army of being a BJP stooge. Since both the Bhim Army and the Bahujan Samaj Party are largely Dalit outfits, the accusation meant to suggest that the BJP wanted to split Dalit votes.

On his release on Thursday, while Chandrashekhar strongly attacked the BJP, he also seemed to criticise the Bahujan Samaj Party. Calling Mayawati his “aunt”, Chandrashekhar said, “She has, till now, run the Dalit movement very well. But now she is getting old. Whatever is lacking, whatever is wrong, our social movement will make amends.”

To read the original copy about Chandrasekhar’s background, pl click  here

An Interview of Chandrashekhar , Bhim Army Chief and a Dalit leader from Uttar Pradesh who was recently released from the jail.

“I believe I can do better work for my community if I stay away from politics. I fear the corrupting power of politics. If ever I feel there is a need for it, I will promote a suitable candidate. But I will not fight elections myself.”

Bhim Army founder Chandrashekhar (centre) with supporters at Chhutmalpur village after his release from Saharanpur jail after more than a year. (Express photo/Gajendra Yadav)Released after more than a year in jail, Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar, who last year led an agitation against attack on Dalits in Saharanpur, and subsequent a big rally in Delhi, speaks with DEEPTIMAN TIWARY on his activism, politics and his plans for 2019 elections. Excerpts:

You spent more than a year in jail. There were reports that you were tortured in jail.

If a revolutionary is going to fret over pains he suffers, there would be no revolution. They are against us; they will subject us to torture. My job was to keep my morale high despite all difficulties. But I would like to say that jail is a graveyard for the living. Like an animal, you are tied and untied every day.

Go to jail once – the chapatis and vegetables you get there, even animals won’t eat. I was in need of urgent medical attention due to problems in my stomach and my kidneys. But for eight months I was not given any medicine. By denying my family permission to visit me, they tried to break my spirit. But a revolutionary doesn’t die like that – his spirit cannot be broken.

 

You were on hunger strike in jail in solidarity with the Dalit agitation over the Supreme Court’s order on the SC/ST Act. How did the jail officials react?

I was on hunger strike for eight days. They tried to force-feed me (but) I did not give in. Yet, they planted stories in the media that I was eating one meal every day. I realised through this that (M K) Gandhi’s ideas cannot be implemented in this country.

(Patidar agitation leader) Hardik Patel almost died during his fast (in Ahmedabad recently). Was anyone bothered? Nothing can be achieved with Gandhi’s ideology in today’s India. They called me violent, so I thought let’s do satyagrah (through the fast in jail).

Do you see violence as an essential part of revolution ?

It is important to make a distinction between the idea of violence and cowardice. If I come to your home, manhandle you, misbehave with women in your house and you stay non violent, then you are a coward. What violence should we talk about? Police lathicharged peaceful protestors (in Saharanpur). This was a provocation.
It would have been violence on part of our people if Dalits had set on fire people who burnt their homes. We did not do so. We are not fools. We understand what the government is doing – the police played a partisan role and put victims behind bars.

Why do you think the government released you?

The government has released me because it knew I would be released by the Supreme Court any which way…the government knew it was going to be reprimanded by the apex court because it (state) has no case. In any case, these days they (government) are getting an earful from the court every day. So they thought let’s release and reap some political mileage.

Do you think the government can get political mileage from your release?

Not until I am out and alive. I will tell my people to defeat the BJP. Voton se main inki nasbandi kar dunga (I will conduct a vasectomy on the BJP through votes.)

You have been working at the grassroots level for social and political empowerment of Dalits. Why don’t you fight elections?

I believe I can do better work for my community if I stay away from politics. I fear the corrupting power of politics. If ever I feel there is a need for it, I will promote a suitable candidate. But I will not fight elections myself. Electoral politics has a way of diluting ideology. We will support and promote the right kind of people.

Will you extend your support to an Opposition grand alliance for 2019 Lok Sabha elections?

Definitely. If the BJP has to be uprooted, no single party can do it. People will have to come together – only a grand alliance can defeat the BJP. During Lok Sabha polls, the state government will try to influence elections through the administration. There will be social polarisation, riots…BJP will take help of communal violence. So I have to bring people together and tell them that we have to stay away from communal politics.

Will you support Mayawati without an alliance. She has not supported you. She has called you BJP’s B-team.

There is no meaning to Bhim Army’s support or no support to Buaji (aunt). She has struggled a lot along with Saheb (Kanshi Ram), and after he was gone. It is now our turn to do something – to build the society, to boost morale of our people, to empower them with education. She can continue doing electoral politics. We both have the same blood. She may have some issues with me, I have none with her. It is not in my values to speak ill of my Bua. Our only aim is to defeat the BJP.

What will happen if you manage to defeat BJP? Will Bhim Army and BSP still walk the same path?

My path is Bahujan. Buaji could jump on to sarvjan (non-Dalit general politics), but I will always remain on the Bahujan path.

Do you feel bad that Mayawati did not make any effort to get you released, that she did not create any political pressure?

I don’t understand political pressure. I only understand social pressure.

What if Mayawati does not join an Opposition alliance?

Then we will force her to. We will create enough social pressure through rallies across the country. After all, the BSP derives its power from the same society. Akhilesh (Yadav, of Samajwadi Party) and the Congress cannot defeat the BJP.

BJP has been trying to woo Dalits. The Prime Minister often talks about B R Ambedkar.

(Narendra) Modi-ji’s steering is in Nagpur. Modi-ji only says he is a well-wisher of Dalits but that’s not the truth. The biggest enemy of Dalits is the system that wants to keep them as slaves. A particular social group has massive contribution in this. If this group wants, it can change the society because people value their views.
In the name of religion, the society has been misguided. If Dalits were not in the trap of this religious narrative, they would have realised their potential.

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