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From Chandrashekhar to Ravan, Why Bhim Army Chief is a Challenge to BJP

Bhim Army’s founder Chandrashekhar Azad (File photo)

Bhim Army’s founder Chandrashekhar Azad (File photo)

“Mere saath kaho – Hum iss desh ke shasak hain (Repeat after me, we are the rulers of this country!),” roared 30-year-old Chandrashekhar, as he thumped his chest and twirled his moustache in the heart of the national capital earlier this week.

Mere saath kahoHum iss desh ke shasak hain (Repeat after me, we are the rulers of this country!),” roared 30-year-old Chandrashekhar, as he thumped his chest and twirled his moustache in the heart of the national capital earlier this week. Thousands of Dalits repeated after him, who they think is their new messiah.

Chandrashekhar’s clarion call is, as of now, the government’s worst nightmare come true. Along with unsettling the state and the central government, the Bhim Army has made the Bahujan Samaj Party look up and take notice of how things slipped out of its hands.

Chandrashekhar was named in one of the 24 FIRs that the UP Police registered for his alleged role in violence in Saharanpur on May 9. He was arrested from Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh on Thursday, sources in UP Police said.

The Great Chamar Rising

Chandrashekhar, or Ravan as he calls himself, was born in Dhadkuli village near Chatmalpur in Saharanpur. A law graduate from a local college in the district, he first courted controversy in 2015, when he put up a board at his native place that read ‘The Great Chamars of Dhadkauli Welcome You’.

The move led to tensions between the Dalits and the Thakurs in the village. While the controversy was brought under control, the then 28-year-old, who soon became the face of the Dalits in the village, came into spotlight.

“Chandrashekhar slowly gained prominence. Soon after this incident, he started putting together the Bhim Army and got young Dalits under the banner,” said retired IPS officer and Dalit activist SR Darapuri.

He adds that the youths had been disillusioned by the BSP’s style of politics, and Chandrashekhar’s fresh and strong voice struck a chord with many.

“This disillusionment struck home with the Dalits who felt it was time to be aggressive in terms of activism. This thought spread across the ranks of the Bhim Army and Chandrashekhar became Chandrashekhar Azad for them,” added Darapuri.

The Bhim Army Muscle

What started off from a small part of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, the Bhim Army is being held as the main reason for Saharanpur being on the boil.

Chandrashekhar and his men may be hardcore Ambedkarites, but that hasn’t stopped them from using means of direct confrontation, said activist Ram Kumar, adding that the unit’s style of work is something that has not been seen in the spectrum of Dalit activism.

Any young adult can become a member of the unit. Dalits fresh out of school too. Any Dalit between the ages of 18 and 25 is welcome to join the unit. Interestingly, most of the members belong to the Chamar community or its sub-caste Jatav.

It’s also open to Muslims, another aspect which is ringing in strong with the Dalit community. “At least 7-8% of the entire team is from the Muslim community. It has shown that it wants to consolidate Dalits and Muslims,” said Darapuri.

Within two years of its formation, the Bhim Army has expanded base by focusing on education of Dalits in the region. Though there is no concrete data available, sources said there are around 300 study circles being run by the Bhim Army. The organization has also been active in directly intervening and confronting cases of atrocities against Dalits in the region.

Ravan and His Army: A Political Nightmare

The Bhim Army has expanded and how. Not shying away from use of violence and extreme measures to put forward their case, Chandrashekhar and his men have taken over the minds of their opponents, including those in political fraternity.

“This use of extreme measure was something that BSP, once considered the torch bearer of Dalits, never used. Dalit movement has not seen such an active use of physical measures. For many, this has only cemented their belief in the Bhim Army and sort of rendered BSP homeless,” said Ram Kumar. This use of violence is a major cause of concern for the ruling party as it has put the government and its jurisdiction over law and order on precarious grounds.

BSP supremo Mayawati has more than one reasons to worry. Even she accused the outfit of working in connivance with the BJP, the support that the Bhim Army has from those of the Chamar and Jatav community has given her sleepless nights.

“Mayawati belongs to the same sub-caste of Dalits and has, since forever, counted on their vote bank. But now, the situation looks bleak. It is a definite challenge for us to bring back Dalit youth into the party fold,” said a BSP leader, on condition of anonymity.

Chandrashekhar’s call for consolidation of Muslims and Dalits is another important aspect of concern for many. “No other party has shown that it wants to consolidate Muslims as part of its growth plan. Most of the time, it’s been just talks. On the other hand, the percentage of Muslims in Bhim Army is too strong for the opposition to ignore,” said Darapuri, adding that Chandrashekhar’s speech in New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar only reinstated the faith of the people in Dalit-Muslim unity.

A BJP leader, on condition of anonymity, told News18 that this message of Dalit-Muslim consolidation was one of the prime reasons the government was not going all out to arrest the man in question.

“If we arrest him, it will only lead to more protests and make him a bigger leader than he already is. Party leaders have been asked by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to keep away from the district,” said the leader.

Though bureaucratic reshuffle is a way of pacifying the communities, the leader added that they were dealing with the case with utmost caution.

Ideologically, too, Chandrashekhar poses a challenge to the saffron party. “Chandrashekhar calls himself Ravan and his followers have added an Azad to his name. The leader uses a Hindu mythological character as an epithet of oppression and his followers call him nothing less than a nationalist freedom fighter. You think this goes down well with the saffron party or the RSS?” asks Ram Kumar. Without waiting for a reply, Kumar said this phenomenon can never be digested by the Sangh Parivar or the BJP.

first published:June 08, 2017, 11:30 IST