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Rise of a Dalit Youth Leader in India's Uttar Pradesh Can Challenge Oppositions' Electoral Fortune

Chandra shekhar aazad Ravan - Sputnik International, 1920, 19.08.2021
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Earlier this year, Time Magazine’s annual list featured an Indian Dalit youth, Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, among the list of 100 “emerging leaders who are shaping the future”. Notably, Azad is the only Indian youth politician to make the list.
A new emerging Dalit face — Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has presented a challenge to the ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as the state’s opposition parties — Samajwadi Party (SP), Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
In the local elections held in Uttar Pradesh in April-May this year, Azad's party made significant gains by winning wards in Bijnore, Muzaffarnagar and Saharanpur districts. In dozens of wards, the party successfully received the support of over 10 thousand voters, indicating massive attraction towards the newly formed group.
Experts believe Azad's early success will likely continue in the upcoming state assembly election in 2022.
Political watchers say that the activism of the lawyer-turned-politician, which began in 2015 with the launch of the Bhim Army, will support in shaping his political career in the coming years.

Political Inning

Azad, who is now a renowned name in Uttar Pradesh, started his election campaign with a bicycle journey in the state from 1 July to 21 July, where he covered primarily the western part of the state and areas close to Delhi — Meerut, Moradabad, Aligarh and Etawah districts. 
Sharing the aims of the party, Suraj Kumar Baudh, spokesperson for the Aazad Samaj Party, told Sputnik, “India is not a two-party election nation. But, the recent state or general elections show how India has turned into a two-party nation."
“For example, if we talk about the West Bengal state elections, it was BJP vs Trinamool Congress (TMC). Similarly in the southern state Tamil Nadu, it was All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) vs Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). The national election is all about BJP vs Congress. They’re not talking about governance issues or issues directly impacting the lives of the general public but only blaming each other. These parties are indulged in dividing people on the basis of religions, etc,” Baudh explained. 
"We want to emerge as an option for the people of Uttar Pradesh state and will bring the issues like education, health, oppression of the lower class and women security to the election debate,” Baudh said.
Baudh also believes people high hopes for the future success of the Aazad Samaj Party, but this is their first election: “We will evolve and grow.” 
Speaking about his party's role in the upcoming state election, he says, “We are going to give a tough fight to other political parties. If we cannot be the king, we will be the kingmaker.”
The spokesman hinted that his party might enter into a coalition with the ruling government after the election. 

Aazad Samaj Party: Does It Have a Future?

According to the experts, as of now, the Aazad Samaj Party has created the image of a confrontational and rebellious party that has drawn thousands of supporters, mostly young Dalit voters.
Azad's outspokenness has helped him to stand alone as a leader who can raise a voice against social atrocities against the Dalit. His style of oration brings emotional zest to the Dalit social movement. His speeches have often targeted the country's prime minister, Narendra Modi. In the 2019 general election, his team members even asked him to run for Modi's parliamentary seat - Varanasi. But Azad later refused. 
Sanjay Kumar, Professor and Co-Director of Lokniti, a Research Programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi said, “I see it as a party with a good beginning. It has definitely managed to mobilise the young Dalit voters in Uttar Pradesh.”
“One out of five voters in the state is Dalit, you see why Dalit is so important. Hence, they are definitely going to dent somebody’s vote bank.” 
In about 20 districts out of a total of 80, Dalits form over 25 per cent of the population. The post-poll data shows the BJP drew the support of 17 per cent of the Dalit vote, mainly from non-Jatav communities such as Pasi, Valmiki and Khatik in 2017, when the party came with a massive mandate after a gap of more than two decades.
However, Kumar said, the Dalit cannot be a standalone factor for any party to win the election, “In order to sustain in Uttar Pradesh, Aazad Samaj Party need to expand its vote bank. Not just Dalits but they need a little from every caste. How they do it, we have to wait and observe that.”

Is the Party Challenging the Other Dalit Party in the State? 

Azad's emergence as an aggressive Dalit leader has become a major concern for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), founded by Dalit Stalwart Kanshiram and currently led by four-time state chief Mayawati. 
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has been the flag bearer of the Dalits and the entering of the Bhim Army in active politics may shake its ground, as it has been out of power in the state since 2012.
However, Baudh said, "We're not here to replace any party or make a dent in any party's vote bank."
"BSP failed to perform in 2012, 2017 state elections. And, in the general elections 2019 too. We formed the party in 2020, it’s so unfair to blame us for their poor performance. They failed to perform, hence voters turned to BJP.” 
“It’s easy to blame someone else for your failure. In this case, BSP is blaming us,” he stressed. 
Unlike the BSP and other state opposition parties, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress vote banks are spread over the upper caste, Yadav and Dalit. 

Road to Success

Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan first came to public attention in 2017, when Dalits and upper caste Thakurs violently clashed in the Saharanpur city of Uttar Pradesh, the hometown of Azad. A Dalit group objected to a procession of Thakurs to mark the birth anniversary of Rajput king Maharana Pratap, triggering violence, in which one person was killed and over 15 injured.
He was arrested under the stringent National Security Act and spent 16 months in jail. However, when he came out of prison — he was welcomed as a star by his community, which constitutes around 20.5 percent of the 230 million population of the state.
Since then, Azad has spearheaded many protests across the country, fighting for justice for people who have long been denied civil liberties and dignity under India's archaic caste system. 
In 2020, Bhim Army chief Azad launched his political outfit, the 'Azad Samaj Party’, and announced that they will fight in at least 100 assembly elections, nearly one-fourth of the total constituencies of Uttar Pradesh. 
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