New Delhi: Bhim Army chief Chandra Shekhar Aazad has said that he is willing to join hands with the Samajwadi Party (SP) or any other outfit opposed to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.
“I am open to allying with the SP but I have not met Akhilesh Yadav so far,” Azad said in an interview with ThePrint Wednesday. He added that reports claiming he had met Akhilesh thrice are false.
A Samajwadi Party leader, however, told ThePrint that Aazad has been in constant touch with Akhilesh Yadav.
The SP chief, who has twice burnt his fingers over his choice of alliance partners — the Congress in the 2017 assembly elections and the BSP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls — is keeping his cards close to his chest. The state is scheduled for assembly polls in 2022.
Political experts say that any tie-up will benefit both parties.
“Aazad has become a cult figure among the Dalit youth. If he can transfer this fan following into electorate success, then this alliance will perform well,” said Professor Sudhir Panwar of Lucknow University.
Journalist Ajoy Bose, who has written Behenji: The Rise and Fall of Mayawati, which chronicles the BSP chief, seconded Panwar. “During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Mayawati got 10 seats because of the alliance but failed to transfer Dalit votes to the SP,” Bose said.
“If Aazad and Akhilesh join hands, then the Yadav-Muslim-Dalit combination can be formed, which has been quite successful in UP.”
Expanding the cadre
Aazad told ThePrint that apart from exploring possible alliances, his Azad Samaj Party is also expanding its cadre. He added that the party is carrying out a membership drive at the district level, and that so far 5 lakh people have enrolled. Each membership card costs Rs 20.
“We are preparing to strengthen our cadre. We have the issues and the energy; we can reach out to the electorate too,” he said.
The party is also organising meetings between its workers and Aazad to get a better understanding of their election preparation. Around 13 such meetings have already been held.
“We are a new party. We do not have any experience in cadre mobilisation,” Aazad said. “So, right now, each worker needs to be trained about booth management.”
A rising leader
The Bhim Army chief has been garnering national attention over his presence in events that are held for minority rights. He protested at the Safdarjung Hospital over the alleged Hathras gang-rape case last year and was also present at the stir against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December 2019.
These images have helped him gain recognition with even Time magazine featuring him in its yearly list of 100 “emerging leaders who are shaping the future”.
“That (being on the Time list) is the biggest achievement of my political career apart from agitations over the Dalit atrocities,” he said.
The Mayawati factor
His rise has coincided with former UP chief minister Mayawati, arguably the tallest Dalit leader in the country, increasingly shying away from the light. Despite Aazad’s attempts to join hands with the BSP on several occasions, Mayawati has time and again attacked him.
Speaking on the lack of support from the BJP, Aazad said, “I do not want to waste my energy in seeking validation from leaders. I would rather focus on the expansion of my own party. And I don’t think that I have a dearth of political advisors.
“Mayawati may have the legacy of Kanshiram but I have the principles of Kanshiram,” he added. “The youth are agitated and assertive. This can be harnessed at the ballot box.”
Aazad also said that he does not see himself as just a Dalit leader. “Political pundits cannot isolate me as just a Dalit leader,” he said. “I am mobilising the backward castes and minorities, who constitute nearly 85 per cent of the electorate.”