(The decision of Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad to challenge Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Yogi Adityanath has grabbed eyeballs. The Quint discusses the implications of Azad's decision. This is the view. You can read the counterview by Amitabh Tiwari here.)
Azad Samaj Party (ASP) supremo Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan is all set to challenge Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on the latter's home turf. Ravan will fight the election on the Gorakhpur Urban seat against Yogi. He had indicated the same earlier while speaking of an alliance with Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, which failed to fructify.
"If Akhilesh asks me, I am ready to fight an election against Yogi," he had declared.
Ravan is gearing up to duel Yogi now, but the question is whether he would be able to outwit the saffron-clad ascetic. Or is Chandrashekhar Azad eyeing something beyond?
Dalit Power in the Land of Gorakhnath
The performance of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the last few elections has been the barometer of the political strength of Dalit votes in the Gorakhpur Urban seat. Interestingly, the BSP has been a consistent second runner-up on the seat in the last three Assembly elections.
In 2017, Janardan Chaudhary of the BSP secured 11 percent votes, while in 2012, Devendra Chandra Srivastava got 23,000 votes with a 14 percent voteshare. In 2007, Vinod Kumar Upadhyay came third in the election and secured just 5,000 votes.
Chandrashekhar Azad is eyeing the same vote bank as the BSP did. So, if the BSP decides to field its own candidate in the fray, then the Dalit votes are bound to get divided.
For political pundits, it has become a matter of curiosity that if Ravan does not have the overwhelming strength to challenge Yogi, then why he is taking him on?
The new delimitation of the seat has changed the weightage of Dalit and minority voters, as a large chunk of belts containing Dalit, OBC, and minority voters were included in the Gorakhpur Rural seat. The resultant caste equation is relatively comfortable for a BJP candidate, with mainly Vaishya, Kayastha, Rajput, and Brahmin votes.
Gorakhpur-based senior journalist Manoj Kumar Singh says that the rumours about a possible underhand deal between Ravan and Yogi were rife after his alliance with Akhilesh Yadav fizzled out.
Fighting an election may rid him of that allegation, but his chances could only brighten up if any other party – the SP or/and the Congress –announces to support him.
Moreover, the BJP also gets a large chunk of Dalit votes in Gorakhpur as Yogi himself keeps their issues in focus. Many of the Dalit youths in slums have been roped in by Yuva Vahini, a right-wing affiliate organisation, and they are invited to Yogi’s various programmes on regular basis. It would be interesting to see what the decision of Dalit voters will be in these elections.
Usurping Hegemony of Mayawati?
The efforts of Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan are being seen as an attempt to become an alternative of Mayawati in Dalit politics. Ravan has a sizeable following among Dalit youth, and has the image of a 'street-fighter' who wears 'Dalit pride' on his sleeves.
In the last few years, it is Ravan who has taken up Dalit issues with fervor and fought on the streets, in comparison to the subdued public appearances of Mayawati.
Fighting an election against the mighty Yogi clearly puts him in the big league.
The BSP is likely to field its own candidate from Gorakhpur Urban seat. But the catch is that if Ravan manages to get more popular votes, then it could turn into a steep slide for the Dalit image cultivated over the years by 'Behenji', which has remained almost unchallenged, so far.
However, Chandrashekhar Azad is cautious about making any statement against Mayawati. He has not sounded any bugle against her 'hegemony' over Dalit votes. But his moves are trying to draw the BSP out in the open for the attention of Dalit voters.
The catch for the BSP is that if it fields a candidate against Ravan, it would be seen as a move against Dalit interests by a party that has a Dalit vote base. For Ravan, this could turn even a crushing defeat in the electoral battle into a war won comprehensively.
Age Is on His Side
Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan may win or not win from Gorakhpur Urban seat, but he is all set to benefit by fighting the mighty Yogi on his home turf. His party has, so far, not entered into any alliance, pre or post-poll, so he can field candidates in all 403 seats and become a force to reckon with.
The prime focus of Ravan is getting the limelight for his actions invoking 'Dalit pride' in the eyes of youth, which he can cash on in his future sojourns. As they say in Bollywood, “Haar ke jitney wale ko baazigar kehte hai.”