Saharanpur (Uttar Pradesh): Holding the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) responsible for the atrocities against Scheduled Castes (SCs), Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad alleged that most attacks on community members are happening in BJP-ruled states. In an interview, soon after his release from jail, Azad said he will campaign against the BJP to ensure the ruling party’s defeat in the 2019 general elections Edited excerpts.
You have interesting names—Chandrashekhar Azad, and Ravan. Who gave you these names and why?
My name is Chandrashekhar Azad, it is written in my documents also. The name Ravan was given to me by the media. They think I am a villain, so they gave me this name. Some members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) of BJP said that Ravan will be killed. Now I am getting death threats also. They think I am Ravan. But I am a common man who is an advocate and runs an organization called the Bhim Army.
How did the idea of Bhim Army start?
Bhim Army started because we were influenced by the thoughts of Kanshiram and we wanted to start a movement for our community. When some SC students were facing problems at a local school, we started this organization, which is also known as Bharat Ikta Mission.
You were released from jail following requests by your family. Why did the government agree to drop the charges against you?
The government has not dropped any charge against me. They have just removed the National Security Act (NSA). The truth is that the NSA period would have ended on 14 September and I would have got justice from the Supreme Court. They did not have any evidence against me, so they removed NSA, and released me hoping to get political mileage out of pleasing the Scheduled Castes. This government cannot do anything for Scheduled Castes. If they really wanted to help the community, they should have given reservation and made the SC/ST Act a part of the Constitution so that there was no attempt by the courts to change it.
The first statement you made after coming out of jail was that you will work to defeat the BJP in 2019 general elections. Is it because the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh pressed charges against you under NSA? Is it revenge politics?
There is no revenge politics. People have been talking about the atrocities against Scheduled Castes and most of the attacks have taken place in BJP-ruled states. People who are responsible for the atrocities against SCs and arrests of SCs cannot be well-wishers of the SCs. We have to remove these people.
The Union government claims that programmes such as providing subsidized cooking gas, electricity to all, housing to all, soft loans under the Mudra scheme have worked to uplift the socially and financially marginalized. Don’t you think that the government is doing enough to look after the Scheduled Castes?
If the government provides employment to SCs, we will be able to buy all these things on our own. The government is not giving us employment opportunities, youth are unemployed because of them. The BJP had promised to give 20 million jobs, I will file an RTI (right to information) application to find out about the status of the 20 million jobs. We want to know how many jobs were given. If we had jobs, we would be able to buy gas and houses, even pay more money to buy them just give us the income source and provide us jobs.
The Scheduled Caste community is divided and different groups vote differently. Some say that the benefit of reservation has gone to one particular community within the SC because of its dominance. How do you react to such statements?
People are unable to understand why they were given reservation. We were given reservation because of Poona Pact, the promises made in Poona Pact were not fulfilled. And now, people mock SCs that they are getting reservations. Scheduled Castes have been suffering for so long, how can empowerment of SCs happen all of a sudden? The government has to help those who are marginalized. There should be no attempt to take the reservation away from SCs. Why should we be made to hear sarcastic statements on reservation when it is our Constitutional right. People want equality and development, but how will development happen when one section remains socially and financially weak, while other communities are strengthened. Will the country develop in such a scenario?
You have spoken against Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati in the past. Now, you are attacking the BJP. Do you plan to start your own political party and contest elections?
I will not form a political party. I call Mayawati my bua (aunt). I have never spoken against her. I speak against the BJP because of the policies of the party. I have no personal animosity with the BJP. I respect Modi (Prime Minister Narendra Modi), I respect Yogi (Yogi Adityanath) also. He (Yogi Adityanath) left everything to serve the people, but he is only serving a section of the people. He should have worked for the development of everyone.
Riots happened in Saharanpur between two communities. When you look back, do you regret the violence? What led to the riots? Could it have been avoided?
Those people who were responsible for the violence, could have avoided it. We were jailed, but there was no violence from our side. People did not get hurt from our side. If people were attacked, then there will be some reaction also. I do not even know if there was any reaction, or not. I had met the district magistrate on the day of violence. If I was involved, why was I not arrested on the same day.
Several political parties are coming together in the name of opposition unity. In Uttar Pradesh, Samajwadi Party, BSP, Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal are planning to join hands. How do you look at this political realignment?
It is for the first time that the government machinery is being misused. All political parties have said that they do not want elections through electronic voting machines (EVMs). We do not trust EVMs. But only because of one party, elections will be held through EVMs. We also have instances when VVPATs have not worked. Voting is the biggest weapon in a democracy and if people try to play with it then what will happen? The government should not misuse power. That is why, opposition parties are coming together. Communal forces are being promoted by this government, and the country is being divided on the basis of religion. If all opposition parties are coming together against this government, then it is a nice thing. I support these political parties. When there will be coalition then nobody can harm any community, all will be heard. This government is acting like a dictatorship because of its majority. They can implement GST, demonetisation, and the rich can take away money from banks.
Have you been approached by the BSP or SP to campaign for them in the coming Lok Sabha elections?
I will not campaign for opposition parties, but I will campaign to defeat the BJP.
What is the next step for Bhim Army?
Our work is our identity. We will work to stop atrocities against SCs. I will visit different states to strengthen SCs.