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Bhim Army chief’s Varanasi bid a ‘BJP conspiracy’ to divide Dalit votes, says Mayawati

The war of words between Mayawati and Chandrashekhar has intensified since he referred to her as ‘bua’ following his release from jail last year.

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Lucknow: Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati mounted a fresh attack on Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Sunday, saying his decision to contest from Varanasi was part of a “BJP conspiracy aimed at dividing Dalit votes”.

The statement highlights cracks within the anti-BJP camp in Uttar Pradesh, the state that sends the maximum number of MPs to the Lok Sabha, days before the election takes off. In 2014, the BJP had won 71 of the state’s 80 Lok Sabha seats.

“With the ill-intention of dividing Dalit votes & taking advantage, the BJP has conspired to field Bhim Army chief Chandrasekhar from Varanasi LS seat,” Mayawati tweeted Sunday.

“This organisation was formed under BJP conspiracy & with its anti-Dalit mindset, it is now indulging in despicable politics,” the former CM added.

Mayawati and Chandrashekhar have been caught in a slugfest since the latter addressed her as “bua (aunt)” in September last year, following his release from prison. Both leaders belong to the Dalit community.

“The BJP tried hard to help Bhim Army chief Chandrasekhar join the BSP as its mole but failed in its conspiracy,” Mayawati said in another tweet Sunday.

Chandrashekhar, who is campaigning in Varanasi, could not be immediately reached for comment. The story will be updated if and when he responds.

The warring Dalit leaders

Chandrashekhar emerged on the national scene after his arrest in June 2017 for his alleged involvement in the Shabbirpur Dalit-Thakur violence, which had left two dead a month before. Later that year, he was booked under the stringent National Security Act (NSA).

Shortly after his release from the Saharanpur district jail last September, Chandrashekhar had claimed that he and Mayawati “have the same blood”, and while she might have some issues with him, it was against his “values to speak ill of bua (aunt)”. Their only aim, he had added, was to defeat the BJP.

Also read: Priyanka Gandhi met Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad but the message was for Mayawati

Mayawati had rejected Chandrashekhar’s words and claimed that she could not be related to people who had been “jailed for violence and were freed as part of a strategy against Bahujan Samaj Party”.

The Dalit vote is crucial in the state where, according to the 2011 census, the community accounts for around 21 per cent of the total population.

Who is Chandrashekhar?

Four years ago, Chandrashekhar, then a 31-year-old lawyer, had co-founded the Bhim Army as a social organisation in Saharanpur district.

Through a network of paathshalas (schools), it offered free education to Dalits.

The organisation had been silently working in western Uttar Pradesh till the clash between Dalits and Thakurs in Shabbirpur village of Saharanpur in May 2017.

Chandrashekhar was accused of instigating the violence and arrested from Himachal Pradesh. While he had maintained that his outfit was a social organisation without any political interests, his release from prison last year coincided with a gradual change in this stance.

Political ambitions

Even as the BSP chief attacked Chandrashekhar and Bhim Army for being hand-in-glove with the BJP, the Dalit leader from Saharanpur has been targeting the ruling party.

In 2018, Chandrashekhar had written a letter to his supporters and voters in the region, asking them to ensure the BJP’s defeat in the Kairana bypoll and putting his weight behind Tabassum Khan, the RLD candidate supported by the BSP, the SP and the Congress. The BJP went on to lose that election.

However, it was only earlier this month that Chandrashekhar laid bare his political ambitions, when he held a rally at Saharanpur on 12 March.

He was subsequently detained for allegedly violating the model code of conduct by using more than the stipulated number of motorcycles, but taken to a Meerut hospital on 13 March after he complained of ill health.

Minutes later, the Congress general secretaries in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Jyotiraditya Scindia, paid him a visit, fuelling speculation that he would join hands with the party.

Also read: Priyanka Vadra meets Bhim Army’s Chandrashekhar Azad, sparks ‘Dalit vote’ murmurs

Chandrashekhar, however, refuted rumours of being offered a Congress ticket and claimed that he will contest from a place where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a candidate. Two days later, in Delhi, Chandrashekhar reiterated his decision to contest the Lok Sabha polls against Modi from Varanasi.

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  1. Muslims and Dalits are immense voting blocs all over the country. While the former will almost certainly vote tactically / strategically, efforts to split the latter could bear fruit.

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