New Delhi: Chandra Shekhar Azad wants to challenge Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to a debate on issues on the ground, and is confident he’ll win — he’s just waiting for a news channel to fix a date.
Speaking to ThePrint, the Bhim Army leader and Azad Samaj Party chief also said that whichever constituency Adityanath had picked to contest from in the upcoming state polls — even if it was Mathura or Ayodhya — Azad was ready to go head-to-head against him. Adityanath eventually picked Gorakhpur, and Azad will contest against him there.
“I am waiting to have a debate with Yogi ji on issues, then people can gauge who is the right man for the job. I am confident he will not be able to defeat me,” he said.
“There will be a time when Yogi will come face to face with the excesses he has unleashed on innocent people due to arrogance of power,” said Azad, sporting his signature navy blue scarf around his neck, while preparing a roadmap for his upcoming virtual rallies and campaign trail.
Azad, one of the founders of the Bhim Army, an Ambedkarite organisation, launched the Azad Samaj Party (ASP) in 2020. The ASP, which will make its debut in Uttar Pradesh in the upcoming assembly election, announced an alliance with 35 other small parties Sunday.
The ASP ruled out an alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP) — expected to be the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) chief challenger in this election — after extensive negotiations that fell through after the ASP was left short on seats, according to Azad. However, a post-poll alliance with the Congress isn’t out of the question for him.
Azad also hit out at the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), claiming that the legacy of its founder, Kanshi Ram — which the ASP also claims — was being “murdered”.
Azad has taken a leaf out of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s book, as in 2013 Kejriwal had challenged and defeated then CM Sheila Dixit from the New Delhi assembly constituency in his electoral debut.
“I have been saying for a while that I will contest from wherever the CM does. Adityanath decided very late — first it was Mathura, then Ayodhya, then he went to his safe zone, Gorakhpur. But the people of Gorakhpur know full well about the dictatorialism, hooliganism (gundagardi) and corruption of his government. After I announced my candidacy, I got over 30,000 samarthan patras (letters of support) asking for a new government,” said Azad.
“I was even ready to contest from Ayodhya or Mathura, if that’s where Yogi Adityanath decided to contest from,” he said.
When asked why he was so adamant to be in a head-to-head contest against Adityanath, Azad said it was the natural course of action as the CM was the strongest BJP leader in the state — and he himself was the ASP’s strongest leader.
He also asserted that he didn’t want to field a weak opposition leader to give Adityanath a walkover.
In the end, the CM decided to contest from Gorakhpur, which Azad called a ‘safe seat’ as Adityanath has been an MP from there for five consecutive terms, from 1998 to 2017. However, Azad pointed out that in 1971, former chief minister Tribhuvan Narain Singh was forced to resign after losing from Gorakhpur.
“This is also the history of Gorakhpur,” he said.
Party’s UP debut
This will be the Azad Samaj Party’s debut in Uttar Pradesh. Azad Sunday declared an alliance with 35 other small parties under a front called Samajik Parivartan Morcha, which is to contest 403 seats in the upcoming UP elections.
Barely two years old, the ASP has big plans. Azad said that by the next Lok Sabha elections in 2024, “someone from our community will be the next prime minister”.
However, he added that while he was putting his best foot forward in many seats in UP, in a way these were also “test elections” to see how the work of the Bhim Army and ASP was resonating with the people.
Won’t rule out alliance with Congress, how SP talks collapsed
While a coalition with the SP was completely out of the question, Azad was non-committal about whether the ASP would get into an alliance with the Congress after the polls or later on.
He said that while he greatly respected Congress leaders Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul Gandhi individually, there were some ideological inconsistencies between him and the Congress that he could not reconcile at the moment.
“There are quite a few issues. However, I will remain tight-lipped for now. In politics, everything is dependent on possibility. Therefore, who knows what the future may hold. I will not completely write it off,” said Azad on a possible alliance with the Congress.
He said that many things may change while working towards progress, but also asserted that for the time being he had decided not to ally with any big parties.
This comes right after the decision not to be part of the Samajwadi Party alliance.
He accused the SP of only wanting Dalit votes, but not a Dalit leadership. He said that not a single person from the Scheduled Caste (SC) community was part of the SP’s leadership committee.
Azad added that he had been in talks with SP chief Akhilesh Yadav for the past six months, with the aim of uniting the opposition and forming a strong front to defeat the BJP.
He said that Yadav had first assured him of 25 seats but later changed this to two or three, which Azad decided would not work. In the interim, he had given Yadav time and followed up — but after a point, he decided that he would not settle for so few seats..
“I wish I was told about this decision six months or two months earlier, as then I would have had more time to work. We managed in 10 days to form an alliance and contest elections. But if this was announced earlier, then I would be in a very good position — if the seat-sharing was decided earlier.”
“Mere saath dhokha hua hai (I have been cheated on),” he said.
Kanshi Ram’s dreams being ‘murdered’
The ASP says it draws its ideals from the legacy of Bahujan leader Kanshi Ram; it’s registered as ‘Azad Samaj Party (Kanshi Ram)’. But there’s also another party that claims Kanshi Ram’s legacy — the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)
Azad said that while he respected BSP chief and former UP CM Mayawati and always would, he could not watch Kanshi Ram’s dreams being “murdered”.
“I cannot watch Kanshi Ram’s dreams being murdered, which is what is happening through their andolan at present. Earlier, people from backward castes were given leadership positions. However that is not the case anymore — S.C. Mishra has taken over the entire party,” he said, referring to the BSP’s Brahmin outreach campaign and its Brahmin leader, Satish Chandra Mishra.
He said that many people from the Bahujan community were upset about what the campaign had become, and told Azad to go ahead and form his own party.
“Now the BSP is not even discussed in the politics of Uttar Pradesh,” said Azad.
The long-term vision of the ASP, he said, was to change the perception that people from the (Dalit) community could not become rulers (shashaks), bring an end to the politics of religion and instead debate actual issues, and to get rid of the politics of money.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)