LUCKNOW: As India gets set to vote in the first phase of Lok Sabha polls on Thursday, Bhim Army seems to have decided to upset the alliance game plan in Saharanpur by extending its support Congress candidate Imran Masood.
Saharanpur is one among eight western UP constituencies going to vote in the first phase. Chandrashekhar Azad, chief of Bhim Army, a social organisation with respectable clout among Dalits of western UP, has exhorted his followers and the Dalit voters of Sahranpur parliamentary segment to vote and support the Congress candidate during Thursday voting.
Chandrashekhar's appeal is being seen in the backdrop of Mayawati’s diatribe targeting Bhim Army chief calling him a BJP agent who wanted to divide the Dalit votes. While the BJP has fielded its sitting MP Raghav Lakhanpal in Saharanpur, the BSP-SP-RLD alliance has fielded Haji Fazlur Rehman and Congress has reposed faith in Masood. In previous 2104 elections, BJP’s Lakhanpal had won the seat by a slender margin of 65,000 defeating Masood who got over 4 lakh votes. The BSP candidate had remained on third spot.
At the first joint rally of the grand alliance in Deoband on Sunday, Mayawati had appealed to Muslim voters to back Rehman and ensure that their votes did not get split. Bhim Army supporters had also thronged the joint rally venue in large numbers carrying the photo of chief Chandrashekhar Azad. However, as per sources, some of the Bhim army leaders alleged that BSP-SP activists manhandled a number of Dalits carrying holding Chandrashekhar’s picture at the rally and tore their posters.
Chandrashekhar has always been vocal in supporting BSP chief Mayawati. But she has rejected all his overtures “fearing a breach in her clout” as Bhim Army chief puts it. “She gets insecure by my presence as she thinks I can be her alternative. So she rejects the presence of Bhim Army,” says Chandrashekhar.
Another Bhim Army member justifies decision to support Masood narrating how he was the first one to reach out Chandrashekhar when he was arrested after the caste clashes in Saharanpur in 2017. “BSP was nowhere then to help us,” says Surendra, an activist of Bhim Army. Saharanpur is dominated by Muslims, who are around 42% of the population. Bhim Army’s support to Masood would make BSP candidate’s battle tougher as he is depending on Muslim and Dalit combination to sail through. Chandrashekhar seems to have a soft corner for the Congress after Priyanka Gandhi’s visit to him in a Meerut hospital last month. In fact, Mayawati has been consistent in her attacks on Chandrashekhar.
Recently, when he announced to challenge PM Modi in Varanasi, Mayawati had termed him an "agent of the BJP who wants to split Dalit votes". Chandrashekhar had retorted by attacking said SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and his father Mulayam Singh calling them "agents of the BJP" as they "allowed atrocities on Dalits".