“You were not elected to perform religious rituals, but to respond to aspirations… Or, resign”

Chairman of the Bhim Army and Azad Samaj Party, Chandrashekhar Azad has become a leader of the youth, especially for the Dalits, claiming to represent their aspirations, which other parties do not respond to. Following scenes of thousands of Uttar Pradesh preliminary entrance test aspirants trying to make it to test centers packed with trains and buses, he talks about the problem of unemployment, his party’s plans which have yet to take off, and Dalit Representation which is back in the news following the conversion dispute which led to the resignation of Delhi Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam. Excerpts:

The crowds that turned up for the UPPET exam last week were seen as much a sign of the state government’s mismanagement as of the extent of the job shortage. How do you see it?

AZAD: India no longer has democracy, because democracy is the rule of the people. Now there is a monarchy, which resembles democracy. During elections, we see political parties making big promises for jobs. Some say they will give 2 million jobs. You must have seen that before the UP elections earlier this year, the government started giving people rations… It’s a bribe for votes. Political parties lie before the elections. Young people are also struggling because of this. They are studying and hoping for a government job… The unemployment condition is so bad that for every 10 vacancies, even a class IV job, five lakh people apply. Of the five lakh, two lakh are well qualified. We don’t even use the country’s capabilities well.

We have seen the kind of mismanagement that occurred during the UPPET exam. I don’t believe the critics, but everyone was saying that if the exam had been a religious event, the aspirants would have been showered with flower petals. I believe the chief minister of the state should have been aware of the challenges. In religious events, new trains run, as well as in election rallies. You are the guardian of the state as CM, and you should have ensured that students could travel in safe conditions…

He (Yogi Adityanath) keeps talking about the safety of sisters and daughters. They must have suffered so much… Who will bear the responsibility? The CM must remember that people did not vote for you so that you could sit in your residence to perform religious rituals. You were elected to power to respond to the aspirations of the youth. If you can’t, please quit.

Protests are underway at Allahabad University and Banaras Hindu University by groups of students against rising fees.

AZAD: The student wing of the Bhim army is part of the protests… These universities have students from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minority groups – those who are financially weak. This hike will make education inaccessible for these groups. The RSS and the BJP have never understood the value of education. Their politics revolve around religion and division and they want to put an end to these educational institutes. Dr. Ambedkar used to say that those who get an education will raise their voices, and that is what the BJP does not want.

Elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are approaching. Does the Azad Samaj party have a plan for these elections?

AZAD: In both states, we have a solid organization. We raised people’s issues and led their struggles. We believe in raising our voices on fundamental issues… I will go to Himachal Pradesh. We will contest the elections there with all our might. If there is a possibility of an alliance there, we will discuss it.

In UP, the BSP only managed to win one seat out of 403. What do you think of the future of the party in the state?

AZAD: Until now, people from oppressed communities had no choice. They had to vote for the BSP even if it didn’t work for them. But now the scenario is different. The Azad Samaj party works on the ground and raises the issues of the people. In this year’s elections, people told me that they were voting for them (the BSP) for the last time, and that in the future they would vote for the Azad Samaj party.

You recently met the OBC leader of Chambal region in Madhya Pradesh, Pritam Singh Lodhi, who was expelled from the BJP. Is there anything on the maps for MPs, where elections are scheduled for the end of 2023?

AZAD: More than the elections to the Legislative Assembly, I think what is important is the question of the reserve in the panchayat elections in MP, where the quota for OBC communities should be 27%. We unite CBOs, Dalits and minorities there and work with them. We work with OBC and tribal outfits. We want to do what has never happened in the state, which is to make an Adivasi the MP’s CM. We work on the ground to make Adivasis understand the value of their vote. We are trying to form a coalition of leaders from these groups and we will contest the elections as part of the coalition. We are making similar efforts in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

In Delhi, we saw the resignation of Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam for his participation in a conversion event, after being attacked by BJP leaders. The BJP alleged that “anti-Hindu” statements were made at the event. AAP did not support Gautam. How do you see the role of the AAP on the issue?

AZAD: He was forced to resign by the AAP… Members of the Bhim army had arrived at the police station where Gautam was taken (for questioning). People from his party did not come, but we supported him. The police had to let him go. A few things are clear after that. The BJP talks about Dr. Ambedkar and says he wants to fulfill his dreams and so does the AAP. And yet the 22 resolutions of the Delhi event (which the BJP opposed) were framed by Dr Ambedkar when he accepted Buddhism… He had said that even though it was beyond his control that he was born in the Hindu religion, it was in his control not to die Hindu. The resolutions he made when he accepted Buddhism included that he no longer considered Hindu deities as his God. And it’s not a lack of respect. If I don’t regard a deity as my God, then it’s not disrespectful. It would be disrespectful if I said something against a deity.

Now back to Gautam and his resignation. Who filed a complaint against him? The BJP State Chairman in Delhi. Who forced him to resign? AAP and Arvind Kejriwal. This means both are using the name Ambedkar and just want the votes of people who believe in Ambedkar. They are now exposed. People from Dalit, backward and minority communities who believe in Ambedkar should not fall into the trap of AAP.

A veteran congressman and Dalit leader, Mallikarjun Kharge was elected president. How do you see this in the context of Dalit politics in the country?

AZAD: I don’t know if he was appointed president because he is a Dalit. He may have been made president because he is a loyal leader of the party. I will not comment on this and would like to congratulate him on his election. We’ll see how it will work. (But) We’ve been seeing Congress for a long time. In Rajasthan, Congress is in power and despite this, several people from the Meghwal community have been killed for keeping mustaches. Whenever I go to meet the families of the victims, I am treated there the same way as the BJP treats me elsewhere… In power, the Congress behaves the same way as the BJP.

Ruth R. Culp