Updated: January 16, 2022 12:01:12 am
Accusing Akhilesh Yadav of “insulting” him and sidelining the Scheduled Castes, Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad announced on Saturday that his Azad Samaj Party (ASP) won’t be forming an alliance with the Samajwadi Party for the coming Assembly elections. At a press conference soon after, Akhilesh claimed there was a “conspiracy” behind how the talks had failed.
Addressing a press conference in Lucknow, Azad said talks with Akhilesh had gone on for more than a month. “At the end of one month and 10 days of discussions, I realised that Akhilesh Yadav doesn’t need Dalits. In this alliance, he doesn’t have space for Dalit leadership. He just wants Dalits to vote for them,” Azad said.
In return, Akhilesh said that he had held talks with SP ally RLD to ensure that two seats, Rampur Maniharan and Ghaziabad, were set aside for the ASP, in Azad’s presence. “Both seats were given. After that, he (Azad) called someone and then told me that he will not fight the elections. He said his sangathan (organisation) was against it… We don’t know who the person on the phone was. This is a conspiracy,” the SP chief said, adding that this is why the party had decided not to take in any more leaders from other parties.
Several leaders from the BJP and other parties have joined the SP in the past few days, and it is now facing the prospect of multiple contenders for seats.
Calling himself a disciple of Kashi Ram, “who made Netaji (SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav) a leader”, Azad said they had always been apprehensive about whether an SP government would exploit the Dalits. “In the last two days (since he met Akhilesh), Bahujan society has been insulted,” he said. “Dalits, Pasmandas and all other marginalised and backward classes are supporting Akhilesh because they believe that social justice will be done. I now feel that Akhilesh has not yet understood the meaning of social justice.”
Azad claimed Akhilesh had refused to give concrete answers on issues raised by the ASP, including ending the deadlock over reservation in promotion for Dalits and backward classes.
He said that going in for talks, it was at the back of his mind that the SP chief had failed to visit the house of any Dalit who had faced “exploitation” under the BJP government. Despite this, Azad said, the ASP expected Akhilesh to respond like an “elder brother” towards them.
Azad also said that the ASP would contest on its own if the “divided” Opposition did not get united.
Azad has a strong base in the Saharanpur area of Western UP, where the Bhim Army led by him has been long working for Dalits. He first made national news in 2017, leading Dalit protests over violence between the community and Thakurs in Saharanpur. His participation in the anti-CAA protests and his long incarceration by the Uttar Pradesh government further cemented his position as an articulate youth leader of the Dalit community.
For two years now, when he announced the Azad Samaj Party, Azad has been trying to convert that into a leap into politics. While his natural partner was considered to be the BSP, Mayawati is seen to be wary of Azad’s appeal. Among other things in his favour is the fact that BSP founder Kanshi Ram fought his first electoral battle from Saharanpur, his bastion. Mayawati had slammed Azad’s participation in the anti-CAA protests in Delhi, accusing him of “defaming” Dalits.
In 2020, the ASP fought its first elections — a bypoll for the Bulandshahr Assembly seat, and two Assembly seats in Bihar as part of an alliance – though it didn’t register a win/ Last year, it contested the zila panchayat elections in Muzaffarnagar, and six of its candidates won.
Ahead of the Assembly polls, Azad had spoken about the importance of “a collective Opposition to beat the BJP”. It also gave out feelers to show it was open to an alliance with both the Congress and SP, and said even the BSP was not unwelcome should it “share the ASP’s vision”. However, Azad failed to reach any tie-up with anyone.
At a rally in Bulandshahr in November, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra virtually said party workers did not want a tie-up.
With the Congress, BSP and SP releasing their first list of candidates, it seems all doors might be shut on Azad.
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