In a move that could come as a setback for the BSP with weeks to go for the Lok Sabha elections, the Bhim Army is planning to put up its own candidates or support those who are not part of the SP-BSP alliance in seats where the “gathbandhan is not strong enough” in UP.
At the same time, Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad has confirmed that he will contest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi this time. The outfit will also put up a candidate against another high-profile BJP leader, Union Minister Smriti Irani, Chandrashekhar told The Indian Express.
Given the support Bhim Army enjoys in western UP among Dalits, particularly the young, the decision could spell trouble for the SP-BSP alliance. Bhim Army sources said they will put up and support candidates from the Bahujan community, largely from Dalits, Muslims and backward castes, which is a votebank that the SP and BSP hope to consolidate.
“Our aim is to defeat the BJP. That is why I am contesting against Modi. We have not yet decided who we will put up against Smriti Irani or in any other constituency. But we will make some important announcements in Friday’s rally (at Jantar Mantar),” Chandrashekhar said after being discharged from a Meerut hospital where he was admitted following his detention in Deoband.
He was speaking a day after Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi visited him in hospital, triggering intense speculation in political circles. Chandrashekhar had, however, ruled out any alliance with the main Opposition party.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Bhim Army national president Vinay Ratan Singh said: “Our support primarily is for the gathbandhan (SP-BSP). But if we see that in a constituency, the gathbandhan candidate is not strong enough to defeat the BJP, we will support the candidate who we feel can. Our main aim is to defeat the BJP and for that we will support whoever we feel can do it and cares about the Bahujan community.”
Until recently, the outfit had maintained that it would not enter electoral politics as it was a social organisation — its change of plan is likely to affect the BSP the most. Two days ago, the BSP had announced that it would not enter into any alliance with the Congress in this Lok Sabha polls.
Despite repeated snubs from the BSP, which called the Bhim Army “BJP’s B team” during the Saharanpur violence in 2017 that brought it to national focus, Chandrashekhar had previously made it clear that he was in favour of Mayawati becoming the Prime Minister.
However, just five days ago, he appeared to have tempered his support to the BSP-SP coalition. In Delhi, he sought clarifications from SP chief Akhilesh Yadav on why his MP Yashveer Singh had torn the Bill on SC/ST quota in promotions in Parliament in 2012, and from Mulayam Singh Yadav on why he expressed the wish in Parliament for a second term to Modi.
The Bhim Army is scheduled to hold a Hunkar Rally at Jantar Mantar Friday to press for its demands, including the rollback of 10 per cent quota in government jobs for the economically weak among the general category.