A day after BSP chief Mayawati ruled out a tie-up with the Congress in any state, Congress Uttar Pradesh east general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra Wednesday met Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad at a Meerut hospital.
Azad was admitted to Anand Hospital Tuesday when he fell ill after being detained by the Saharanpur Police for allegedly violating the Model Code of Conduct in Deoband.
While the meeting signalled a possible Congress understanding with the Bhim Army, Priyanka said her meeting with Azad had no political connotations. The Bhim Army declared, soon after the meeting, that it would contest the LS polls and that Azad would take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi.
Hours after the meeting, Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav met Mayawati at her Lucknow residence in what Akhilesh said was to discuss the Mahaparivartan.
Following the two-hour meeting, SP spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary said they met to discuss the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and was not connected to Priyanka meeting Azad.
After meeting Azad, Priyanka targeted the BJP government and said: “This government has become so arrogant, it wants to crush a young man. It does not want to listen to his voice. Since they didn’t give employment, now when they are raising their voice, let them. What is the point of crushing that.”
Asked about the possibility of Azad contesting from the Nagina constituency in UP, she said, “There is nothing like this. Nothing political. I like his enthusiasm. I like the fact that he is struggling and raising the voice of his people,” she said. Priyanka was accompanied by AICC general secretary in charge of UP West Jyotiraditya Scindia and state party chief Raj Babbar.
Azad, too, denied claims of an alliance with Congress. “There is no possibility now, there is no possibility ever. We are a Bahujan samaj. And we will support their cause. We are not natural allies… For now, the strategy is that we will come into the field to fight. Winning and losing is for later. Our main thing is that we won’t let Modi win,” he said.
Asked about Priyanka’s visit, he said: “We had a small one minute chat. We talked like someone checks up on an ill patient. She sat right next to me. It wasn’t political at all. It was a general conversation.”
According to Azad, the BJP narrative on national security after the February 26 Balakot air strike was immaterial.
“We haven’t forgotten the previous 4-and-a-half years. The way Dalits have been tortured and killed on the basis of caste. Muslims have been killed on the basis of cows. There were attempts to cause riots in Muzaffarnagar, Bulandshahr. The way SC, ST (Atrocities) Act has been weakened. The way 13 point roster was brought in. The way they killed the Constitution for political benefits by bringing in the 10% reservation. We will not let ‘hatyaras’ win.”
National President of the Bhim Army, Vinay Ratan Singh said that Priyanka’s visit came as a complete surprise. “There was no prior communication about her visit. She came and expressed support to us. We are busy ensuring that our rally to Delhi is successful,” he told The Indian Express.
Along with taking on the Prime Minister, he said the Bhim Army will also “put up a candidate against (Textile Minister) Smriti Irani in the constituency she chooses to contest from”. He said they will support any Opposition candidate, who it believed could defeat the BJP.
“Our support primarily is to the gathbandhan (grand alliance). But if we see that in a constituency the gathbandhan candidate is not strong enough to defeat the BJP, we will support the Opposition candidate who we feel can.”
The statements are a marked departure from Azad’s stance at a press conference in Delhi recently where he said neither the Bhim Army not he would contest elections. He had said the Bhim Army would put up candidates from outside the organisation against Modi and Irani.
According to Singh, the change in the Bhim Army’s stance comes after “the oppression” its rally suffered at the hands of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s administration. “Look how they have tried to stop our rally and prevent our March to Delhi. Our workers have been heckled and misbehaved with. We have no option but to take the fight directly to the man responsible for all this,” he said.
(With ENS, Delhi and Lucknow)