Freedom at night for Dalit leader

Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad alias Ravan, accused of murder in connection with caste violence in Uttar Pradesh last year, was released from prison in the dead of the night, hours after which he declared that his sole aim was to defeat the BJP both at the Centre and in the state.

By Piyush Srivastava in Lucknow
  • Published 15.09.18
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Chandrashekhar after his release. (PTI)

Lucknow: Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad alias Ravan, accused of murder in connection with caste violence in Uttar Pradesh last year, was released from prison in the dead of the night, hours after which he declared that his sole aim was to defeat the BJP both at the Centre and in the state.

"We will dethrone the anti-poor governments at any cost. If needed, we will join hands with the proposed alliance of the Opposition parties. I will discuss this issue with my organisation," the Bhim Army founder said in his village in Saharanpur district, 500km west of Lucknow, on Friday.

Congress vice-president Imran Masood visited Chandrashekhar's home later in the day. The two leaders came out holding hands and Chandrashekhar said Masood was his "elder brother".

Although Chandrashekhar has expressed his desire to support a possible Opposition alliance, things might not be smooth as BSP chief and Dalit icon Mayawati had accused him of being a BJP agent who was "trying to divide the Dalits".

Chandrashekhar said of Mayawati on Friday: "She is like my bua (aunt). I am not a threat to her politics."

Chandrashekhar told reporters that no government had ever been in such a hurry to release someone who it had earlier identified as "a threat to the nation".

Chandrashekhar had been arrested in June 2017 on the charge of murder, inciting violence and spreading hatred on social media to divide the society. Later, the National Security Act had also been invoked against him.

"My release is a victory of the ideology we are propagating. I had been implicated in false cases and the government was unable to prove the charges in the court. So they decided to release me and my friends. We will teach a lesson to the BJP," Chandrashekhar said.

Arvind Kumar, the principal secretary in the home department, had announced on Thursday that the administration would not oppose Chandrashekhar's bail plea, hours after the Dalit leader's mother requested the government to view his case sympathetically.

The decision was seen as an attempt by the BJP to placate the Scheduled Castes before the Lok Sabha polls next year. The bail plea was supposed to come up for hearing in early October and it was not clear what steps the government set in motion to suddenly release him in the early hours of Friday.

Late on Thursday evening, the state government issued a statement that the Saharanpur district administration had been directed to facilitate Chandrashekhar's release.

The Bhim Army leader was taken out of Saharanpur district jail at 2.30am on Friday and escorted by a dozen policemen in a van to his home in Chhutmalpur village, where his mother Kamlesh Devi waited for him. Chandrashekhar reached home around 3.30am. His two aides, Shiv Kumar and Sonu Ram, were released at 6.30am.

Kamlesh Devi said the police had informed her about the release time and requested her not to inform anybody immediately, apparently to avoid law-and-order problems.

Chandrashekhar had been lodged in jail since June 2017 after a series of clashes between Dalits and Rajputs.

A lawyer by profession, Chandrashekhar had emerged as a leader of the Scheduled Castes in west Uttar Pradesh during violence in Shabbirpur village of Saharanpur district in May 2017.

In April that year, the Thakurs of the village had prevented the SCs from installing a statue of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar. Led by Chandrashekhar, the SCs had in May objected to a procession of the Thakurs in the village on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap, sparking violent clashes in the district in which three persons died.