Released after more than a year in jail, Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar, who last year led an agitation against attack on Dalits in Saharanpur, and subsequent a big rally in Delhi, speaks with DEEPTIMAN TIWARY on his activism, politics and his plans for 2019 elections. Excerpts:
You spent more than a year in jail. There were reports that you were tortured in jail.
If a revolutionary is going to fret over pains he suffers, there would be no revolution. They are against us; they will subject us to torture. My job was to keep my morale high despite all difficulties. But I would like to say that jail is a graveyard for the living. Like an animal, you are tied and untied every day.
Go to jail once – the chapatis and vegetables you get there, even animals won’t eat. I was in need of urgent medical attention due to problems in my stomach and my kidneys. But for eight months I was not given any medicine. By denying my family permission to visit me, they tried to break my spirit. But a revolutionary doesn’t die like that – his spirit cannot be broken.
You were on hunger strike in jail in solidarity with the Dalit agitation over the Supreme Court’s order on the SC/ST Act. How did the jail officials react?
I was on hunger strike for eight days. They tried to force-feed me (but) I did not give in. Yet, they planted stories in the media that I was eating one meal every day. I realised through this that (M K) Gandhi’s ideas cannot be implemented in this country.
(Patidar agitation leader) Hardik Patel almost died during his fast (in Ahmedabad recently). Was anyone bothered? Nothing can be achieved with Gandhi’s ideology in today’s India. They called me violent, so I thought let’s do satyagrah (through the fast in jail).
Do you see violence as an essential part of revolution ?
It is important to make a distinction between the idea of violence and cowardice. If I come to your home, manhandle you, misbehave with women in your house and you stay non violent, then you are a coward. What violence should we talk about? Police lathicharged peaceful protestors (in Saharanpur). This was a provocation.
It would have been violence on part of our people if Dalits had set on fire people who burnt their homes. We did not do so. We are not fools. We understand what the government is doing – the police played a partisan role and put victims behind bars.
Why do you think the government released you?
The government has released me because it knew I would be released by the Supreme Court any which way…the government knew it was going to be reprimanded by the apex court because it (state) has no case. In any case, these days they (government) are getting an earful from the court every day. So they thought let’s release and reap some political mileage.
Do you think the government can get political mileage from your release?
Not until I am out and alive. I will tell my people to defeat the BJP. Voton se main inki nasbandi kar dunga (I will conduct a vasectomy on the BJP through votes.)
You have been working at the grassroots level for social and political empowerment of Dalits. Why don’t you fight elections?
I believe I can do better work for my community if I stay away from politics. I fear the corrupting power of politics. If ever I feel there is a need for it, I will promote a suitable candidate. But I will not fight elections myself. Electoral politics has a way of diluting ideology. We will support and promote the right kind of people.
Will you extend your support to an Opposition grand alliance for 2019 Lok Sabha elections?
Definitely. If the BJP has to be uprooted, no single party can do it. People will have to come together – only a grand alliance can defeat the BJP. During Lok Sabha polls, the state government will try to influence elections through the administration. There will be social polarisation, riots…BJP will take help of communal violence. So I have to bring people together and tell them that we have to stay away from communal politics.
Will you support Mayawati without an alliance. She has not supported you. She has called you BJP’s B-team.
There is no meaning to Bhim Army’s support or no support to Buaji (aunt). She has struggled a lot along with Saheb (Kanshi Ram), and after he was gone. It is now our turn to do something – to build the society, to boost morale of our people, to empower them with education. She can continue doing electoral politics. We both have the same blood. She may have some issues with me, I have none with her. It is not in my values to speak ill of my Bua. Our only aim is to defeat the BJP.
What will happen if you manage to defeat BJP? Will Bhim Army and BSP still walk the same path?
My path is Bahujan. Buaji could jump on to sarvjan (non-Dalit general politics), but I will always remain on the Bahujan path.
Do you feel bad that Mayawati did not make any effort to get you released, that she did not create any political pressure?
I don’t understand political pressure. I only understand social pressure.
What if Mayawati does not join an Opposition alliance?
Then we will force her to. We will create enough social pressure through rallies across the country. After all, the BSP derives its power from the same society. Akhilesh (Yadav, of Samajwadi Party) and the Congress cannot defeat the BJP.
BJP has been trying to woo Dalits. The Prime Minister often talks about B R Ambedkar.
(Narendra) Modi-ji’s steering is in Nagpur. Modi-ji only says he is a well-wisher of Dalits but that’s not the truth. The biggest enemy of Dalits is the system that wants to keep them as slaves. A particular social group has massive contribution in this. If this group wants, it can change the society because people value their views.
In the name of religion, the society has been misguided. If Dalits were not in the trap of this religious narrative, they would have realised their potential.