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UP 2022 in focus, Bhim Army’s Aazad is cycling across state to ‘unite exploited’, expand base

Chandra Shekhar Aazad wants to highlight issues of inflation, rising petrol prices and anger against BJP. Analysts say alliances will be critical to his assembly polls plans.

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Lucknow: Azad Samaj Party (ASP) chief Chandra Shekhar Aazad is toiling hard these days to increase the base of his nascent party across Uttar Pradesh ahead of the 2022 assembly polls.

Aazad is cycling across the state, seeking to highlight the issues of inflation and rising petrol prices, and the anger against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

After starting the ‘Cycle Yatra’ on 1 July, Aazad has so far covered around a dozen districts including Meerut, Moradabad, Aligarh and Etawah. While the party has local units in all 75 districts, he is planning to touch the block level too through this journey which will end on 21 July in Lucknow.

“The idea behind this cycle yatra is to give some important messages to the common public regarding the present scenario — inflation, rise in petrol price and increasing anger against the government,” Aazad told ThePrint.

“Besides, there are more reasons for this yatra. Firstly, we do not want ‘mehanga loktantra’ (expensive democracy) where parties are spending so much money and muscle power in elections. We don’t have so much money. We want to contest elections from cycles which are economically cheaper. Our workers can afford it,” he said.

“Another reason behind this yatra is that we want to unite the ‘Bahujan Samaj’. We want to create awareness on the need of preventing division of votes in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections next year,” he added.

The still-new politician described his mission statement as: “Sabhi shoshit, vanchit ko ekjut rakhna hi hamara lakshya hai (Uniting all the exploited and marginalised is our aim).”

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Azad Samaj Party’s journey so far

Chandra Shekhar Aazad began activism in 2015 when he started the Bhim Army, a Dalit rights organisation, as a reaction to the discrimination and caste-based violence faced by students of the community. 

The Bhim Army provided muscle to the oppressed, which stopped the violence against Dalit students in Saharanpur — and also gave the unit a launchpad. 

On 8 June 2017, Aazad was arrested from Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh and was booked under the National Security Act after caste clashes broke out in Saharanpur, which left one dead and many injured. He was jailed in Saharanpur until 14 September 2018.

While his activism continued, Aazad officially announced his new political party on 15 March last year, and named it Azad Samaj Party.

In the panchayat polls that followed, the ASP claimed victory in over 56 wards out of the more than 500 wards that it contested in western UP.

What analysts make of ASP’s chances

According to Lucknow-based political analyst Kaviraj, Aazad has shown courage on the ground on several occasions during issues related to caste-based violence.

“He was very active during the Hathras case (October 2020) too but activism and politics are two different things. Assembly polls will be an important test for his newly formed party although they have performed well in several districts of west UP where Mayawati is having a stronger hold. But for assembly polls Mayawati is still one of the tallest leaders. She is a four-time CM,” said Kaviraj.

“If Chandra Shekhar’s party allies with any opposition party, it may help in getting more votes,” he added.

Shilp Shikha Singh, an assistant professor at Lucknow’s Giri Institute of Development Studies, said it’s too early to say if ASP can hurt Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party’s chances in some western UP districts.

“Mayawati has a strong pan-UP base. So she is still the tallest leader among Dalits when we talk about polls. But Aazad has also gained due to his efforts on ground,” she said.

“This yatra may expand his base in the state but it’s not easy to predict whether it will be a ‘game changer’ for the polls. Polls and organisation base expansion are two different things. We should wait till the election scenario comes closer,” added Singh.

In UP, Dalits constitute 20.5 per cent of the total population. In districts like Bijnor, Bulandshahr and Saharanpur, Dalits form over 25 per cent of the population.

Also read: Prashant Kishor meets Rahul & Priyanka, discusses ‘Punjab infighting and UP polls’

Party mum on alliances, but meetings are on

Asked if the choice of bicycle — the election symbol of Samajwadi Party (SP) — is a hint of a possible alliance with SP, Azad said, “I keep on meeting several opposition leaders. It doesn’t mean that we are going to do an alliance.” 

He added, “Manyavar Kanshi Ram also did a cycle yatra several years back. So the cycle is not made only for one particular party.”

Aazad said as of now, the party is focussing on expanding its organisation. “I welcome all the leaders who want to take forward the movement of social change that has been stalled. I would ally only with those forces that are genuinely wanting to work for the upliftment of the weaker section,” he added.

The Bhim Army Chief has already met Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party president Om Prakash Rajbhar twice, sparking speculation of a possible OBC-Dalit anti-BJP front. However, there has been no formal announcement.

Aazad told ThePrint that ASP is yet to decide on an alliance though it has decided to contest the 2022 assembly elections.

Sources said the party is also holding discussions with the SP as well as the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which has got a new lease of life following the farmer protests in western UP.

Yatra to expand organisation

At the moment, though, the young party is focussing on its ‘cycle yatra’.

Speaking about it, a senior party leader said, “Chandra Shekhar himself has covered the major districts of west UP. Now he will move to Purvanchal (eastern UP). The Bhim Army volunteers, under the banner of Azad Samaj Party, also embarked on a cycle yatra in several blocks and villages.”

Another party leader said, “Cycle yatra has started in all 75 districts. During these yatras, Aazad meets local unit people and volunteers. This also boosts up workers morale, he is their hero. More and more people want to join ASP.”

The second leader added, “On 21 July, Chandra Shekhar will complete the last round of the yatra in Lucknow on the foundation day of Bhim Army. He will do a press conference on 22 July. Several post holders from different districts will also meet him on the same day. Discussions regarding expansion in organisation will happen.”

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

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