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Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad’s Ravidas march shows he’s new lion of Bahujan movement

The new-age Robin Hoods of Uttar Pradesh are leading a social movement built on Ambedkar’s principled idea for Dalits - educate, organise, agitate.

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Days after the demolition of a centuries-old Ravidas temple in Delhi’s Tughlakabad on 10 August, the national capital bled blue. An army with its humble origins in western Uttar Pradesh swarmed central Delhi with its members carrying rods, sticks and an unwavering passion to assert their rights. Amid impassioned cries of ‘Jai Bhim’ , Chandrashekhar Azad, the Bhim Army chief, limped like a wounded lion towards Tughlakabad, joined by thousands of boys and men from various states.

The ten-headed Ravan from the Hindu epic Ramayana and his might can be the perfect metaphor today to describe Chandrashekhar Azad and his revolutionising of the Dalit “social” movement in modern India’s identity-based politics. And Azad’s rise has come just as Dalit politics’ tallest leader of the past two decades, Mayawati’s political fortune has faltered and declined.

Mayawati’s different path 

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati has overtly nurtured her prime ministerial dream since 2009. And it is also during this phase that her party has been snuffed out of power and relevance by the very people who were instrumental in her coming to power – the Brahmins. To counter Samajwadi Party (SP) patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and his stronghold in Uttar Pradesh in the 1990s, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bolstered Mayawati’s career and brought Brahmin votes to her.

When the BJP withdrew support to her year-long government in 2003, Mayawati had grown into a prominent mass leader of her own and could take political decisions without being swayed by concerns of losing her voters. Over the next few years, she reached out to the Brahmin community directly, and returned to power with a landslide victory in 2007 to run her first full term. 

But this Dalit-Brahmin caste-mix mantra, which worked like a charm for Mayawati, was short-lived. Both the Dalits and the Brahmins became disillusioned by behenji eventually. Their cause and priorities, as communities, were antithetical, not least because of the caste fault lines that run deep in India, especially in Uttar Pradesh.  

Also read: Why demolition of Sant Ravidas temple in a Delhi forest has Dalits up in arms

BSP leader’s obsession

India’s huge social problem of casteism — jaativaad — cannot be undone by the talisman of political power. It needs a shift in the antiquated thoughts that many Indians still hold dear in the name of traditions. This can only be brought about by a social movement. 

Mayawati was once described by former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao as a “miracle of democracy”. But her obsession with becoming the first Dalit prime minister of India cost her the very vision that she inherited from BSP founder Kanshi Ram – to uplift and empower the bahujan samaj. This vision for social upliftment had to be aided by political power. Mayawati, marred by her obsession for the PM post, switched her priorities somewhere along her career and made it about her political upliftment aided by the power of the caste card.

The woman who always started her public addresses with “main chamar ki beti hoon” is now being viewed by the Dalit community as someone who allowed the Brahmins to infiltrate her party and dilute the larger cause of the Dalit movement.

Also read: Ravidas was a Dalit guru who ran a business, dressed lavishly and made a queen his disciple

Azad’s edge over Mayawati

This is where Chandrashekhar Azad has an edge over Mayawati. With every nook and corner in Saharanpur pasted with posters of ‘Hamein iss desh ka shasak banna hai’ (we have to become the rulers of this nation), Azad has placed the Dalits as the pièce de résistance in India’s politics.

He has taken B.R. Ambedkar’s principled idea — educate, organise, agitate — to new heights by running over a thousand Bhim Army schools that help Dalit children own their caste identity, understand their history, and organise themselves to assert their rights. Politically motivated or not, Azad has taken the long-living bull of jaativaad by its horns. He is trying to uplift “the great chamar”.

Azad is also key in creating a trend among the Dalits. While some can call it ‘tashan’ (style), he calls it ‘garv’ (pride). He keeps an upturned moustache, rides a bullet bike, wears Ray Ban shades, and gels his hair. It’s a sign of defiance in the face of Dalits being beaten for riding a horse or sporting a moustache.

Also read: Kanshi Ram was my idol, Mayawati ruined the party: Bhim Army founder

Bahujans’ new pride

Young India, a moniker for the youth, who Prime Minister Narendra Modi clings to due to its mammoth share in the country’s population, is also the very vote bank that Chandrashekhar Azad is trying to popularise himself in. Besides the youth from the 16.6 per cent of India’s Dalit population who throng to Azad to bask in the ‘chamar’ pride, Muslim youth too see him as the new ‘dabang’ on the block. 

The Bhim Army moves in a pack. The new-age Robin Hoods of Uttar Pradesh reach out to help whenever members of the marginalised communities are in trouble. Men in bikes take off and fix issues in a matter of hours. Bhim Army to the rescue! The myth of the Muslim vote bank busted by the BJP in the last decade has made most parties, including Mayawati’s BSP, ditch the community. Muslims see the Bhim Army and its leader Azad as someone who will at least be there to help and protect them in dire times.

Chandrashekhar Azad’s social activism is effective and cannot be ignored. It maybe at a nascent stage but it is on track. Which is why Congress’ Priyanka Gandhi Vadra chose to meet him in a hospital in Meerut along with party bigwigs like Raj Babbar and Jyotiraditya Scindia in March ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, and after Azad was jailed for breaking the moral code of conduct during the campaign. It was a rather symbolic gesture, considering the Gandhis’ refusal to ally with the BSP in the polls. It would be of little surprise if Azad was being viewed as the new stakeholder in Dalit and youth politics in India.

The long march from the alleyways of Saharanpur to the power corridors of Delhi isn’t easy. But the social agitation and the in-your-face youth appeal of Advocate Chandrashekhar Azad can be the segway that rides him smoothly into the seats of power.

The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.

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  1. Not a single word on the wanton destruction of public and private properties by this rowdyist outfit. Instead of condemning this anti=social behaviour, the author is praising this destructive outfit and analysing its political prospects.. One shudders to think what will happen if such people come to power. So, extra-ordinary is the terror of this outfit, that not a single political party has chosen to condemn the destruction of public and private properties by the unruly elements that compose the outfit. What kind of message is the political class giving to the nation? Where is this fellow Anand Sharma who first raised his voice against the SC judgement of 20th March 2018? So great is the terror of the “marginalised” group that no media dares open its mouth. After indulging in self-censorship, the cowardly, terrorised media wants freedom of speech. Where are the liberals, leftist, human rights scoundrels who are keeping their mouths shut? Is this their idea of “SOCIAL JUSTICE”?

    • How many words on “wanton destruction of public and private properties” by upper caste people since they showed up 2500 years ago?

      A society that can tolerate everything from politicians like that UP MLA getting away with medieval thuggery (until it got too hot) to police doing fake encounters does not have a leg to complain about things like destruction of property. You have as much rights as the weakest link in the society.

  2. “Marginalised” from where? There are a thousand occupations. Are you speaking of “marginalised” as in TN, where the SC/ST/BC/MBC/DNC/TNC/ and other invented groups occupy 99.99% state jobs and are called “marginalised” and claim to be deprived of “Social Justice”?

  3. The UC Hindu/Muslim woke feminist love Dalit Robinhoods, hypersexualized Dalit leaders like Azad or fictional characters like Velutha. This so-called opinioned woman is hurt because Mayawati nurtured a dream to be a PM, that hurt her upper-caste ego, and now instead of looking at the caste problem and electoral alliances and compulsions, she gets straight onto speaking about Mayawati. Shame on you! Shame on you– just because of your caste and social capital dont spit venom against dalits– glorify one dalit and abuse another– such an old upper caste trick. fuck u all

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