UP Elections: Is Challenging Yogi a Mistake for Chandrashekhar Azad?
Strategically, a newcomer must first try to pull down the competition before challenging the top player.
(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 counterview. You can read the view by Vikas Kumar here.)
Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad has announced that he will contest the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections against Chief Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Yogi Adityanath from Gorakhpur (Urban). His party, the Azad Samaj Party, has announced its decision to contest 33 seats in Uttar Pradesh.
Azad would contest the polls to further BR Ambedkar's motto of 'Bahujan Hitay, Bahujan Sukhay' as per the party’s release. It adds to the political potboiler drama in Uttar Pradesh. Samajwadi Party is yet to announce a candidate from the seat. He hopes other secular parties would back him in the contest.
A Failed Alliance With Samajwadi Party
The Bhim Army drew attention during the May 2017 clashes between Dalits and upper-caste Thakurs in Saharanpur, following which Azad was arrested under the National Security Act (NSA). He was released in September 2018 after 16 months in jail. So, he has a personal grudge against the BJP and Yogi, which is understandable.
He tried to stitch an alliance with the SP, which failed to materialise. “After all the discussions, in the end, I felt that Akhilesh Yadav does not want Dalits in this alliance, he just wants the Dalit vote bank. He humiliated the people of Bahujan Samaj, I tried hard but the alliance could not happen,” he said recently.
Even during the Lok Sabha election, he had divulged plans to contest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi but later backtracked. Azad has been critical of the BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He called for a ban on the RSS in February 2020 and challenged it to fight elections directly.
His party has some presence in Western Uttar Pradesh but limited influence in the eastern part of the state, and hence, his decision to challenge Yogi in his turf comes as a surprise.
‘Ravan’, as he is fondly called, has gained some popularity among the Dalit youth disillusioned with Ambedkarite parties who have failed to work for their upliftment and cause. The decision will get him visibility and media coverage, people who don’t know him outside of Uttar Pradesh will get to know about him, and there will be a lot of spotlight on him for the next two months.
Weakening of BSP Was an Opportunity
However, in my opinion, he is committing the same mistake as Arvind Kejriwal did in 2014. Kejriwal and India Against Corruption’s entire campaign was against corruption in Congress or UPA II’s tenure. However, when it came to contesting general elections, Kejriwal decided to challenge Narendra Modi from Varanasi.
A clear indication of wrong priorities. If he had instead contested against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, the trajectory of the Aam Aadmi Party today would have been different. The AAP realises this and is now attempting to create its space in states where Congress and BJP are in a direct contest.
If Azad wishes to emerge as a champion of Dalit rights, then he had a splendid opportunity in 2022. The weakening of the Bahujan Samaj Party provided an opening for him to emerge as the real representative of Dalits.
He needed to renew his attacks on Mayawati and brand her as the B-team of the BJP, a charge that Mayawati had levelled against Chandrashekhar when he started getting traction and media attention.
After Mayawati called off the alliance with SP post the general elections, Chandrashekhar had accused Mayawati of weakening the Bahujan movement. He had also slammed behenji for promoting nepotism and appointing her brother Anand Kumar and nephew Akash Anand to top party positions.
Azad Should Be Building a Base Among Dalits
Dalits account for 21% of the state's population. A section, especially the Non-Jatavs, have started aligning with the BJP since the last few polls. Mayawati has been able to hold on to her core Jatav vote bank. With the party facing an existential crisis, both the BJP and the SP have stepped up efforts to tap this vote bank.
Azad should be building a base amongst Dalits and try to occupy the space of the BSP in the state. He is young and has age on his side. He should have contested from a reserved Assembly seat in Bijnor or Etawah, from where Mayawati and Kanshi Ram were elected as MPs.
He should have attempted to position himself as the true heir of Kanshi Ram’s brand of politics. Strategically, a newcomer has to first try to pull down the competition before challenging the topmost player. It’s a gradual, step-by-step process. If one tries to jump and occupy the number one slot, they normally tend to fall. Personal grudges should not prevail over a larger cause. My best wishes to Azad.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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