In Chandra Shekhar Aazad, supporters see a new leader to spearhead Dalit movement, fill space left vacant by Mayawati's diminishing popularity

  • Chandra Shekhar Aazad was greeted with a loud cheer by hundreds of supporters when he stepped out of Tihar jail after being granted conditional bail

  • On Thursday, Aazad's supporters braved the chilling cold to joined him in a long procession from Tihar to Karbala at Jor Bagh in Delhi, constantly raising slogans and waving the National Flag

  • Aazad's stand against CAA and NRC has won him support of not just Muslims but also Dalits with his supporters pushing for him as the new leader of the Dalit movement

After a long wait, the silence and murmur outside Tihar Central Jail finally broke into a loud cheer as Bihm Army chief Chandra Shekhar Aazad stepped out of central prison at 9 pm on Thursday.

Dressed in a black jacket and a pair of trousers with a whitish muffler around his neck, Aazad, flanked by his core party members and lawyer Mehmood Pracha, waved at the crowd with a smile.

Armed with a degree in Law, Aazad (33), a Dalit activist from Saharanpur and co-founder of the Bhim Army, which he now heads, was arrested near the Jama Masjid by the Delhi police on 21 December. He was sent to judicial custody in connection with the violence during an anti-CAA protest in Old Delhi’s Daryaganj. Aazad was granted conditional bail by a Delhi court which allowed him to visit religious places but not join anti-CAA protests, whether at Shaheen Bagh or any part of the national capital.

 In Chandra Shekhar Aazad, supporters see a new leader to spearhead Dalit movement, fill space left vacant by Mayawatis diminishing popularity

Bhim Army chief Chandra Shekhar Aazad visited Jama Masjid on Friday. PTI

Outside the Gate 3 of Tihar Jail, Asia’s largest prison complex, the cheer soon turns into a moment of celebration. The large area outside the prison complex reverberates with high-pitched slogans of “Jai, Jai, Jai, Jai Bhim” as the frenzied youth — hundreds in number holding the National Flag, garlands, banners and posters bearing the photos of BR Ambedkar and Aazad — push each other to get closer to their leader in a bid to congratulate him, garland him or shake hands with him. The crowd seems visibly in awe of this young Dalit leader.

Before boarding the car, which was a part of a large procession of vehicles carrying workers and supporters of the Bhim Army from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, Aazad announced loudly, "We abide by the Constitution of India, and we’ll fight till end to ensure that this kaala kanoon (black legislation) of CAA and NRC don’t get implemented. We believe in and follow what Baba Saheb (BR Ambedkar) had said and written."

Even the chilling cold and moisture in the air due to an evening shower couldn’t deter the enthusiastic crowd from constantly raising slogans, waving flags and joining the long procession from Tihar to Karbala at Jor Bagh in Delhi.

Does Aazad's popularity, in any anyway, indicate the emergence of new leadership in the Dalit movement — space which has been lying vacant with the diminishing popularity of Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati?

The procession led by Aazad received a warm welcome with fireworks when it reached Shah-e-Mardan Dargah, a holy shrine of Shias at Karbala in upscale Jor Bagh at 10.45 pm, which the Bhim Army chief visited on Thursday night to pay obeisance at the shrine and meet Shia men, women and children waiting eagerly for him.

In between the celebration and procession, Firstpost caught up with Aazad to find out about his next move and his plans to drive the nationwide movement.

What's next?

We’re here by choice and not by chance. We’ll follow the Constitution of India and carry forward this anti-CAA and anti-NRC movement. The government’s dictatorial attitude can’t go on.

Will implementation of CAA harm backward class and Dalits?

The government has been giving a message that (only) Muslims are protesting against CAA and NRC, which is completely wrong. Implementation of CAA will not only cause damage to the Muslims but the backward classes, Dalits, Adivasis and the poorest of the poor. Today, every section of society is protesting. We can’t allow the ruling dispensation to divide our society on the basis of religion.

See, CAA is a kaala kanoon (Black legislation) and we’ll fight to bring an end to this.

What do you have to say about your arrest from Jama Masjid area?

The police arrested me with no valid reason. The fact is that I was reading out the Preamble of the Constitution at Jama Masjid. Is reading Preamble, a crime? And, if it’s so, I’ll do it again and again, and I’m ready to go to prison a hundred times for it. Demonstration and protest against anything bad is my constitutional right. The government and police are suppressing people’s voice and we’ll fight against it. We will follow what Baba Saheb had said.

The Court has imposed a restriction that you can’t enter Delhi over the next four weeks and you have to go back to Saharanpur. Given this situation, you won’t be a part of the upcoming Delhi assembly election...

I haven’t gone through the order and my lawyer knows about it. But, I have faith in the judiciary, which has granted me bail and I’ll plead the court for relief. A Dalit also has the right to contest an election. How can this be prevented?

What do you have to say about the killing of 21 people in your home state Uttar Pradesh during anti-CAA protests?

I wasn’t there at that time, but now I’ll go there and find out. We’ll chart our course of action, accordingly.

Are you supporting or joining any other political party? Do you have any plan to form a new party?

We’ll support all who support this movement. Regarding the formation of a new party, we’ll announce soon.

Bahujan Samaj Party chief and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati has maintained silence on this anti-CAA movement. What's your take on that?

Woh humaari buaji hain (She’s my aunt)....

Though Aazad tactically avoided speaking anything on Mayawati with a smile on his face, the patron of Bhim Army, Pyarelal Jathav promptly remarked, “Bahujan Samaj chose Mayawati as their leader but she disappointed the Dalits, and the backward Muslims, who entrusted faith in her leadership. And that’s why today people want to see Aazad as their new leader. Hadn’t Mayawati and other Dalit leaders in the mainstream political parties ignored the grievances and problems of Dalits, the need of Aazad as a new leader wouldn’t have arisen.”

Jathav, who’s addressed as ‘Guruji’ by Bhim Army workers and followers, added, “At present, a strong Dalit voice is missing in the country that can steer Dalit movement ahead. We’ll form our own party about which we had made an announcement last December in Lucknow. No political party fought with honesty for Dalit cause, so joining hands with any party is out of the question. Dalits have lost faith in all political parties.”

Bhim Army has finalised the constitution of their new political outfit, and once the party’s name and symbol get finalised, a formal announcement will be made.

There had been rumours that Aazad might join or support Congress, especially after Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra visited him in a Meerut hospital in March 2019.

“See, Priyankaji considers Aazad as brother. She told him that if needed, he could contact her anytime. She’s there for any kind of help. But that doesn’t mean Aazad will join Congress,” Aditya Singh Gujar, a doctor by profession from Meerut who was part of the procession and is said to be close to Aazad told Firstpost.

“Now the Dalits — whether Hindus or Muslims — want to see Aazad as their new leader to lead the Dalit movement. We can’t let the society get divided on the basis of religion,” Gujar added.

Aptly summed up Bahadur Abbas Naqvi, general secretary of Anjuman-e-Haideri, a socio-religious body of Shia Muslims, “The large gathering of Bhim Army workers and followers comprising both Hindus and Muslims, the sloganeering in Aazad’s favour and the way he has been received here at Karbala indicate his rising popularity and the need of a young and firebrand Dalit leader.”

Only time will tell whether Aazad — as a new Dalit leader — is able to carry forward the objectives of All India Backward And Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF), an organisation founded by Dalit ideologue and Mayawati’s mentor, Kansi Ram, to fight the system of inequality that divides Indian society into castes.

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Updated Date: Jan 17, 2020 23:41:30 IST