Saharanpur, which was the epicentre of conflict between Dalits and Thakurs, is again making waves and this time it is because Jignesh Mevani, independent MLA from Gujarat, has been frequently visiting the area. In fact, he has been taking an interest in the developments in the area and this has seemingly created ripples within the Bahujan Samaaj Party (BSP), the party which claims to represent Dalits in Uttar Pradesh.
Situated close to the borders of Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, Saharanpur is considered to be the ‘Dalit capital’ of the state as both Mayawati and Kanshi Ram contested the elections from this seat. Additionally, due to the ongoing Thakur-Dalit tussle, developments in the area are keenly watched.
After organising a rally in Delhi in favour of the imprisoned Dalit leader Chandrashekhar ‘Ravan,’ the founder of Bhim Army, Mevani has visited the western UP district many a time. The administration did not allow him to meet Chandrasekhar, but that is not enough to restrict a person. Chandrasekhar’s family members met Mevani every time he visited the region and have been conveying their ideas and details to each other.
Mevani has, of course, avoided meeting the media, but he has been meeting the Bhim Army members and he has been encouraging Chandrasekhar to contest the Lok Sabha elections. With Mevani becoming active in the region, the Yogi government has been keenly watching his progress.
“In democracy everyone has right to speak, live with dignity and contest election and we know that our leaders have been cheated in the past so now is the time to take our own course,” noted Kamal Jatav of Bhim Army.
Riyaz Rana, who keeps a close watch on Dalit activities, points out, “With Mayawati taking no clear stand on the Chandrashekhar issue, the Dalits are unhappy with BSP and in this atmosphere of disgruntlement with the BSP, increased activities of Jignesh can turn the situation around.”
The increased activity of Jignesh in the region has set off undercurrents within BSP. Anil Kumar, the two-time MLA from Purqazi assembly seat, and Purshottam, district coordinator of BSP, have been suspended. It was stated that they were being suspended for indiscipline; the actual reason was their secret meeting with Mevani.
After the dismal performance in 2014 general elections and 2017 state assembly elections, BSP fared better in local body elections but the increased activities of Mevani has unsettled Mayawati.
This has probably been the reason why she has suddenly made several changes within the party in western Uttar Pradesh. Not only did the BSP organise a rally in the region, but also blamed Jignesh and Chandrashekhar for weakening the Dalits.
Since most of the BSP leaders have begun to openly criticise Mevani and Chandrashekhar, it should be understood that it has the tacit approval of Mayawati as everyone is aware that no one can speak on any issue in BSP without the consent of the supremo. Former MLA of Hastinapur and mayor of Meerut, Yogesh Verma, counters “Behen ji (Mayawati) is the goddess of Dalits. Her dedication and commitment is tremendous so Jignesh will not make be able to make any inroads into this region”.
To counter the Jignesh effect, several key changes have been made in the organisation by the BSP supremo. Shamshuddin Raeen, Naresh Gautam and Mohan Lal have been given new responsibilities. Nasimuddin Siddiqui, the main Muslim face of the BSP, has already left the party. There is not a single member of BSP in the Lok Sabha and Mayawati has resigned from Rajya Sabha.
Another major issue of concern for the BSP is that the Dalit youths are moving away from Mayawati. Jignesh and Chandrashekhar are considerably more popular among Dalit youths. It is being said that to counter this and attract youngsters, Mayawati has been promoting her nephew Aakash. He was active at the Azamgarh rally with the BSP supremo.
“Mayawati has to just say one thing that no injustice has been done with Chandrashekhar,” says Nitin Kumar in anger.
The concern and tension is discernable with the fact that BSP has begun a survey amongst Dalits. The former MLA, who has been suspended from BSP, Rao Waris, says “From this survey BSP will know the fact that popularity of Jignesh and Chandrashekhar is increasing among Dalits. These coordinators are not grassroots leaders; they don’t fight elections so they are not aware of the situation on the ground. Now the situation is out of their hands”.
On the other hand, Mevani has been treading extremely cautiously. Even when he was asked to comment for this story, he requested that the questions be texted to him. He has never attacked Mayawati and this is indicative of his maturity. Despite the fact that in western Uttar Pradesh Chandrashekhar rules the hearts of the Dalits, he has never uttered a word against Mayawati. Dalits in the area are angry with government’s actions against their leader Chandrashekhar and they are in search of an alternative. The mother of Kamal Walia, a close associate of Chandrashekhar, Babita, says that Dalits are desperate to find a new alternative.
There are efforts on to bring Chandrashekhar into active politics and that he would also contest elections like Jignesh. Sachin, who stays in the Dalit Ravi Das Hostel, says “Chandrashekhar is extremely emotional whereas Mevani has the brain and if these two come together then the Dalits of Western UP will find a way to move ahead.”
The fact of the day is this that Dalits are moving away from Mayawati and most of the leaders, close to Kanshi Ram, have already left the party. A close associate of Kanshi Ram and now the state president of Rashtriya Lok Dal, Masood Ahmad, says “Mayawati, who used to talk about the interests of Dalits, now talks about interests of all. Money has consumed her and because of that she now works on the instructions of Manuwadis (Satish Mishra)”.
There are reports which have been indicative of Mayawati’s nervousness over Jignesh and Chandrashekhar coming together. The developments in BSP and western Uttar Pradesh speak a lot but time will tell what strategy Mayawati will adopt to counter the Mevani-Ravan claim for Dalit votes.