Yogi releases 'Ravan' with eye on countering Mayawati, winning dalit votes

Ravan Bhim Army Bhim Army supporters holding a placard and wearing tee-shirts with Chandrashekar Azad's image | Facebook page of Bhim Army

Why did the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh finally decide to release 'Ravan'?

The head of the Bhim Army, Chandrashekar Azad, popularly known as Ravan, had been in jail since last year after being booked under provisions of the National Security Act (NSA) for allegedly fanning riots in the Shabbirpur area of Saharanpur district. The term to hold him in jail without trial would have elapsed on November 1, but Azad was released on Friday morning.

According to the principal secretary of the Uttar Pradesh home department, Arvind Kumar, the Adityanath government took this decision after receiving an application from Azad's mother.

Azad and the Bhim Army had attracted nationwide attraction after the Saharanpur caste clashes, which were an outcome of dalit anger. Given the political sensitivities, there is more to Azad's release than meets the eye.

Behind the decision of the BJP-led government to release Azad is a subtle political motive, which is wooing scheduled caste voters, who are in considerable numbers in western Uttar Pradesh. There are many districts in western Uttar Pradesh, where dalits constitute more than 50 per cent of the total population.

Azad's release will pave the way for the release of other dalit activists arrested for allegedly instigating violence during the Bharat Bandh on April 2.

Another motive being attributed to the release of Azad is an attempt by the BJP to counter the influence of Mayawati's BSP, which remains popular in western Uttar Pradesh. Given the Bhim Army's association with dalit politics, the BJP appears to be sending a 'goodwill' message to dalits and also is eyeing using Azad as a counter to the BSP.

After the BJP’s defeat in the Kairana and Noorpur Lok Sabha bypolls, the party strategists discovered that despite their best efforts the dalit votes were drifting away from it. In the backdrop of this, the BJP feels that it should take all possible measures to woo the dalit vote bank.

As part of this, the BJP had sent Kanta Kadam, a leader of Meerut, to the Rajya Sabha to impress dalits.

BJP leaders are convinced that the decision to release Azad will help them in consolidating the dalit vote bank in the region.

After Azad's arrest, many dalit leaders had met him in jail and organised protests to oppose his arrest and detention, including at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi.

There is no denying the fact Azad's arrest had given him countrywide recognition and led to him being portrayed as an “emerging leader” of dalits.

The BJP feels that Azad's 'early' release will assuage the hurt among dalit leaders, which could benefit the saffron party in the coming parliamentary polls.