It is amply clear that Chandrashekhar Azad alias Ravan who was released from Saharanpur Jail in wee hours on September 14 was a political prisoner. And his release has come just hours before a plea against his unjustified detention under the National Security Act (NSA), was to be heard by the Supreme Court. He has been a defender of SC/ST rights and his incarceration for over a year points to a sad state of affairs where those who dare to defend others' rights are turning out to be defenceless before the formidable might of a merciless state.
This, indeed, points to the kind of challenge that democracy has come to face under the Bharatiya Janata Party's rule for past over four years or so. And as the time for another general election draws closer, the levers of power that have been at work to punish an activist like Azad also remind of how they let Rohit Vemula and Gauri Lankesh to perish. In fact, a vicious counter-activism was allowed to flourish with the palpable blessings or bias of the state against those who could dare to challenge the stark injustices coming down through ages and turning into virtual norms.
So, Azad’s arrest is not a lone case of assault against democracy but part of a series of horrible attacks that started a little or sometime before the present regime came to power at the Centre and where rationalists like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi were gunned down one after the other. Compared to the unfortunate three and may be more Azad may well look to be lucky to survive even today amid a siege that has been built up to stop rivals in their tracks and stamp out dissent at all cost.
The question is whether this continuing siege is going to relent to allow the next year’s elections to take place in an atmosphere free from fear. Azad who faced the heat of the State’s ire has warned in an interview given hours after his release to a national daily against the possibility of state-sponsored communal flare-ups to polarise and vitiate the polls. And his claims are in keeping with what the BJP chief Amit Shah has virtually been smarting over. The other day, or on September 11 to be precise, Shah had boasted while addressing his party’s workers and supporters at Jaipur of winning the polls in the past even after the lynching of a 50-year-old Muslim man called Mohammed Akhlaq near Dadri in Western UP and the return of awards and honours by a few distinguished writers, poets and artistes in the wake of it.
Shah was quite off the mark since Akhlaq was killed in September 2015 over the suspicion of slaughtering a calf and keeping its meat in his fridge. And this was the time when Bihar was in the throes of electioneering for Assembly polls which the BJP lost. It is another matter that last year Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar joined hands with the BJP deserting his earlier alliance with Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress that had seen him through at the hustings in November 2015. Perhaps Shah was pointing out in his Jaipur speech to the latest or last year’s change in Bihar though it came more through political manoeuvring after a clear defeat for the BJP in Bihar Assembly polls, or he was referring to his party’s subsequent victory in UP polls where the BJP got an astonishing majority.
Sadly, it was soon after the BJP’s extraordinary victory in Uttar Pradesh polls held in 2017 that trouble began in Shabbirpur village near Saharanpur over a procession taken out by members of the upper castes. Those in procession clashed with local Dalits and this had led to the death of a youngman and arson that destroyed a few houses. Chandrashekhar Azad was among those who were blamed for the violence and multiple FIRs, or first information reports, were filed against him. He could not be released earlier despite Allahabad High Court granted him bail. This was so since a non-bailable law like the NSA was slapped against him to preempt his release on bail.
So Chandrashekhar was caught in a political muddle that also turned riotous following an election in his state which Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati and her other Opposition peers had alleged to have been rigged because of the faulty EVMs, or Electronic Voting machines, as, according to the leaders of BJP’s rival parties, these could have been preset to favour the BJP. The ruling party lost three parliamentary and an Assembly seat in UP in subsequent by-elections. The opposition parties fought these by-polls together through a common candidate in each of the seats.
This again belies Amith Shah’s claims of winning polls in the past despite mob lynching after his party’s defeat in Bihar; and creates doubts about the possibility of BJP’s winning the elections in future or in next general elections too but for the EVM as feared by the Opposition. Yet, it is a fact that the BJP had won last year the UP Assembly polls handsomely. So much so that Opposition parties had cried foul to point out a possible role of EVMs in BJP’s unprecedentedly huge victory in UP. In view of this some parties have recently moved the Supreme Court to raise their concern about EVMs and possibly get some guarantees from the Election Commission vis-à-vis the machines and those who keep their charge during elections.
As the time for elections draw closer Azad also appears to be determined to ensure BJP’s defeat like Shah is sure to make it win. Soon after his release Azad said that he would like Opposition parties to come together and close ranks to drive the BJP out of power. He spoke reverently about BSP chief Mayawati, dismissing reports about her calling him and the Bhim Army led by him as a side team of the BJP. Azad said that he holds nothing against her even if she went against him in the past. His refrain points to the deep desire among the marginalised groups like Bhim Army to see the myriad Opposition parties and groups to come onto one platform and provide a credible alternative before the people against the BJP.
But Mayawati continues to have her reservations about Azad. The BSP chief did not like her being called “Bua” or aunt by Azad. She has said in Lucknow on Sunday, September 16, that had people like him been really interested in the welfare of Dalits, they would have joined the BSP. Now it remains to be seen whether Azad joins the BSP or how he and his Bhim Army come to terms with the party and its leader that he vows to support.