Bhim Army chief Chandrasekhar Azad, in an unprecedented gesture from a Dalit leader recently paid fulsome tributes to Chaudhury Charan Singh, Jat peasant patriarch and former Prime Minister on his birth anniversary last week.
In a tweet on his official letter head as Bhim Army chief displaying a large photograph of Charan Singh on top and a smaller one of himself below Azad quoted him “A country’s road to happiness and prosperity travels through village fields and barns”. Heaping praise on the former prime minister as a powerful voice for labourers and peasants, popular mass leader and a freedom fighter the Dalit leader declared “millions and millions of salutations” on his birth anniversary.
New Political 'Western' Winds in Uttar Pradesh?
This is seen as a significant departure by the young firebrand from traditional perceptions in his community about Jat landowners in western Uttar Pradesh as oppressors of landless Dalit cultivators and Singh as the one who at the time of the Janata government formation in 1977 stopped Jagjivan Ram from becoming the first prime minister from the lowest rung in the caste hierarchy. It may well be indicative of the new political winds blowing on the eve of the UP state assembly polls and the change in social equations across western Uttar Pradesh over the decades.
Such accolades from leaders of Dalit political outfits are usually reserved for their icons like Babasaheb Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram and to be directed at the Jat stalwart regarded unfavourably till not too long ago cannot but have serious political implications.
There is little doubt that by doing so the Bhim Army chief is clearly sending a message to Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Jayant Chaudhury, grandson of Charan Singh as well as Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Akhilesh Yadav whose father Mulayam Singh Yadav was politically mentored by the peasant patriarch. Both leaders have recently struck an electoral pact for the coming UP assembly polls that has incorporated several smaller caste based regional parties. This grand alliance with just a few months left for the elections has clearly emerged as the main political opponent of the ruling BJP.
No Overt Alliance with Samajwadi Party
However, it is unlikely that Azad and his Bhim Army will formally join the Akhilesh Yadav led alliance which at one point seemed on the cards. Sources in Samajwadi Party revealed that although both Akhilesh and RLD chief Jayant Chaudhury were keen to include the Bhim Army in his electoral combine along with other smaller regional parties, they were persuaded not to do so by Mulayam Singh Yadav. Apparently Yadav senior, a smart political veteran told his son that after his disastrous alliance with Dalit supremo Mayawati in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls it was much better to have an informal understanding with the Bhim Army in select constituencies rather than have a formal arrangement.
By publicly hailing Chaudhury Charan Singh—who holds great appeal among both the Jats in RLD and the Yadavs supporting the Samajwadi Party—Azad is clearly signalling to his reportedly significant support base among younger Dalits in many parts of Western Uttar Pradesh that he and the Bhim Army leadership were favourably inclined towards the alliance led by the Akhilesh –Jayant duo.
Interestingly, earlier this month Mayawati’s own nephew, Prabuddha Kumar—son of her elder sister Saraswati—merged his splinter Dalit group Bharatiya Bahujan Parivartan Party with RLD at a public rally in Meerut in presence of both Jayant Chaudhury and Akhilesh Yadav. He, too, highly praised Charan Singh whose thoughts he claimed were in many ways similar to Babasaheb Ambedkar.
Jat, Muslims and Dalits Together Form an Unbeatable Alliance
Significantly, in a concerted effort to improve the earlier estranged relationship between Jats and Dalits the RLD has been carrying out a Bahujan Uday Abhiyan in several parts of western Uttar Pradesh for the past few months. This is happening particularly in Muzaffarnagar with party leaders and workers visiting Dalit villages, localities and homes and explaining the need for the two communities to come together to ensure the ouster of the BJP state government led by Yogi Adityanath.
With the farmer’s successful agitation against the Modi government cutting across traditional hostility between Jats and Muslims in western Uttar Pradesh, the RLD is going out of its way to mend fences with Dalits in the region as well. Jats with around 17 percent of the population in the region have influence in over 100 seats. With Muslims comprising 25 percent and Dalits 20 percent in the same area, if the three electoral groups come together it could form an unbeatable combine in the region.
A major shift in social equations across western Uttar Pradesh over the past few decades has also facilitated what would have been inconceivable in the past – electoral collaboration between Jats and Dalits.
Dalits May Not Need Mayawati Anymore
Gone are the days when impoverished and terrorised Dalit families would cower in their homes on voting day even as lathi wielding Jats used to cast their votes for them at polling booths rigging the results for candidates they favoured.
After several spells of BSP rule with Dalits in charge of the levers of power in Lucknow, a host of electoral reforms that has prevented widespread voting malpractices, and the general socio-economic progress made by Dalits particularly the dominant Jatav community in western Uttar Pradesh it has become much more of a level playing field between the Jats and Dalits making an alliance no longer impossible.
The fact that Mayawati with her BSP—which was earlier the chief beneficiary of the rising political clout of the Jatavs in Western Uttar Pradesh—appears to be a faded political entity no longer capable of winning on her own is yet another reason why a new generation of Dalits and young leaders like Azad are trying out uncharted waters to realise their ambitions.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist and the author of ‘Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati’. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)