Lucknow: The Uttar Pradesh government has ordered early release of Dalit leader and Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad alias Ravan, who has been in jail since June last year in the Saharanpur caste violence case .
The prison stint of Azad, who had been slapped with charges under the draconian National Security Act, was set to end on November 1, but in an official communication, the state government said he would be set free earlier because of “present circumstances and his mother's appeal".
According to highly placed sources, legal aides and top leaders of Bhim Army were contacted by the UP government on Thursday afternoon and given the information about his early release. Two of Azad’s aides, whose jail terms were till October 14, will also be released early along with him, the government statement said.
The decision to withdraw NSA and release Azad is being seen as BJP's move to reach out to Dalits ahead of 2019 elections and comes just weeks after it faced Dalit ire for Supreme Court's alleged dilution of the SC/ST Act.
The BJP has made a concerted attempt to chip away at caste combinations that are held as key voter base of opposition Congress, Samajwadi Party and particularly the Bahujan Samaj Party after losing the bypoll in Kairana to the joint opposition candidate Tabassum Hasan.
The Bhim Army chief had also announced his support for Hasan. She had won by around 44,000 votes, in a major jolt to the BJP.
“I, Chandrashekhar Azad, declare my support for ‘maha-gathbandhan’ (SP-RLD alliance) candidate in Kairana bypolls. I would like to request the people of Bahujan Samaj to unanimously vote for the joint opposition candidate. I hope everyone will help us in this,” he had appealed at the time.
Azad had shot to limelight following a major clash of Bhim Army activists with police on May 9, 2017 in Saharanpur. More than 20 vehicles were torched as members of the Dalit outfit blocked traffic to protest police action against a group of peaceful protesters who had assembled at a park in the city.
He was among various other persons charged with looting and rioting and five cases were slapped on him.
On June 8 last year, he was arrested jointly by Saharanpur police and special task force of UP police from Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh. The Allahabad HC had granted him bail on November 2 in four cases but the state government immediately slapped NSA on him extending his stay in jail.
The government had slapped NSA charges two more times to extend his prison term, giving rise to criticism that it was using the draconian law to crack down on dissent.
A law graduate from a local college in the district, Azad had first courted controversy in 2015, putting up a board at his native place that read 'The Great Chamars of Dhadkauli Welcome You'. The move had caused tensions between the Dalits and the Thakurs in the village.