The visit of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to a Meerut hospital on March 13, 2019 has once again brought the spot light on the firebrand Dalit leader, Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan. The high-optics visit of the Congress General Secretary and the party in-charge for western Uttar Pradesh is an indication of the importance of the man in the election season.
To match the perception, the Dalit leader reiterated that he would contest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the Varanasi seat and his organisation would put up another candidate against Union Minister for Textile Smriti Irani.
One may wonder if he is the new Arvind Kejriwal, but it is difficult to answer this question for now. However, here is a quick check on his antecedents.
Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan. Surely the name sounds heroic, though a little eccentric, combining the names of a freedom fighter and a villain of the epic Ramayana. A lawyer by profession he is the co-founder of Bhim Army Bharat Ekta Mission that runs free of cost schools for Dalit children. The first school was launched in 2015 at Fatehpur Bhado village in Saharanpur, and today, Bhim Army runs over 350 schools in western Uttar Pradesh.
Bhim Army and Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan made it to national headlines in May 2017 when clashes broke out between upper caste Thakhurs and Dalits. The incident took place during a procession to pay tributes to Rajput ruler Maharana Pratap in Saharanpur. The clashes left at least two persons dead and many injured.
Police filed several FIRs against Azad for inciting the violence and invoked National Security Act against him. But he went underground.
Later in the month, Bhim Army took out a dramatic protest rally in Delhi, with its foot soldiers wearing masks of Azad’s face. To top it all, the ‘absconding’ Azad appeared on the stage to address the gathering at Jantar Mantar.
But he was finally arrested in Himachal Pradesh on June 8, 2017. The National Security Act was slapped on him and a Special Investigation Team (SIT) was constituted to investigate the violence. Later the charge sheet was filed against 110 others as well.
In November 2017, the Allahabad High Court had granted him bail in four cases, but Azad continued to remain in jail due to other cases. But in September 2018, he was released on humanitarian grounds, in response to the plea by his ailing mother, it was said.
Come 2019, Azad was arrested two days back in Deoband for violating Model Code of Conduct by taking out a motor bike rally without permission. The police shifted him to hospital after he fell ill in the custody.
His firebrand image, dramatic moves and penchant for big headlines may bring back the memories of Arvind Kejriwal in 2014. But with a wider reach, firm base, a Dalit tag and his love for violence, it would be interesting to watch Azad’s career graph henceforth.