They both joined Kanshi Ram’s movement in 1980, and were later founder members of the BSP. But now, sitting BSP MP Bali Ram, 60, and Balihari Babu, 63, who was expelled from the BSP after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and is now a Congress candidate, are pitted against each other in Lalganj (SC) seat of Azamgarh district.
Bali Ram, then a lecturer at Banaras Hindu University, joined Kanshi Ram’s non-political outfit, the Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF), in 1980 after attending his meeting in Varanasi. The same year, Balihari Babu, then working as a chief registration clerk with the Stamp and Registration Department in Azamgarh, joined the BAMCEF. Later, both of them entered politics through the BSP, which was founded in 1984.
In fact, when Bali Ram first contested from Lalganj in 1989, it was Balihari Babu who led his poll campaign. “I helped him win even his last Lok Sabha election (in 2009). This time, Bali Ram will be nowhere near victory,” says Balihari Babu.
Bali Ram, a three-time MP, says Balihari Babu has betrayed the Ambedkar movement and the BSP, “the party which gave him everything and sent him to Rajya Sabha in 2006”. “He used to be such a fierce Ambedkarite that in his speeches he would tell Dalits, ‘mere jeete jee to kya, mere marne ke baad bhi Congress ka chavanni ka member na banna’ (Even after I die, don’t become a Congress member),” he says.
But Balihari Babu says it is the BSP which has deviated from Ambedkar’s principles and Kanshi Ram’s ideology of “no-money and no-family in politics” by turning it into “only-money and only-family”.\
“In 1951, Babasaheb had said that Dalits should join the Congress for their development. The BSP was founded when the Congress started neglecting Dalits, but it is now a changed Congress under Rahul Gandhi. It is time to combine Gandhism and Ambedkarism to uplift Dalits, and this can be done only by the Congress,” says Balihari Babu.
Both candidates hail from rural Azamgarh, and now have their residences in the same locality in Azamgarh city area. “He was always having problems with the party leadership. He wanted to achieve everything too fast without focusing on his current responsibilities. This led to his ouster from the BSP,” says Bali Ram.
But Balihari Babu blames Mayawati. “I was a pupil of Kanshi Ram, and so was she. It was natural for her to feel jealous of me whenever Kanshi Ram praised my work. She hatched a conspiracy and accused me of anti-party activities before expelling me from the party,” he claims.
With a large number of Dalits, backward classes and Muslims, Lalganj seat has remained with either the BSP or the SP since 1996.