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BSP chief Mayawati had called Bhim Army a “product of BJP” to counter her party after the 2017 clashes but Chandrashekhar, after his release, described her as his aunt, saying their “blood was same”.

Bhim Army founder Chandrashekhar, who was released from Saharanpur jail on Friday morning, announced his support for the opposition alliance and sounded a conciliatory note with Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, calling her his aunt.

The Uttar Pradesh government had ordered Chandrashekhar’s immediate release on Thursday citing a plea by his mother 15 months after he was detained under the National Security Act (NSA) from Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh for a series of clashes in Saharanpur in May 2017 that left one person dead and many injured.

Chandrashekhar had formed the Bhim Army along with his associate, Vinay Ratan Singh, in July 2015 to empower the Dalits and the marginalized. However, after the clashes, his popularity increased, especially among the young. It was evident on Friday when a large number of young people reached Saharanpur jail.

His release in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, seen as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s outreach to Dalits, who constitute about 21% of the state’s population, and to counter the BSP, could boomerang as Chandrashekhar blamed the BJP for his arrest and announced that he will support the prospective Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)-Samajwadi Party (SP) alliance in the next general elections.

“I will support the ( prospective SP-BSP) alliance,” he said, when asked which political group he would prefer in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. He ruled out contesting the 2019 polls, saying he preferred to work for empowering Dalits and the downtrodden.

After the clashes, the Bhim Army was seen as an emerging rival Dalit force to the BSP in the western Uttar Pradesh but the organization supported the grand alliance of BSP-SP-RJD-Congress in the Kariana by-poll.

BSP chief Mayawati had called Bhim Army a “product of BJP” to counter her party after the 2017 clashes but Chandrashekhar, after his release, described her as his aunt, saying their “blood was same”.

“She has struggled a lot and I respect her. She is growing old and sometimes she appears to be in trouble due to her age. But she is still serving the people through politics and I respect her a lot,” he said.

Chandrashekhar said he was released as the Uttar Pradesh government was scared of being “rebuked” by the Supreme Court and also wanted to take political mileage. “They (BJP) cannot fool Dalits,” he said, alleging the BJP stood for “communalism”.

Hundreds of Bhim Army supporters and Chandrashekhar’s family had gathered outside the jail, chanting slogans of ‘Bhim Army Zindabad’ and ‘Chandrashekhar Zindabad’ as their leader walked out. Overwhelmed supporters garlanded him and distributed sweets to express their happiness over his release.

Bhim Army’s district president Kamal Walia claimed that Chandrashekhar’s release was the victory of the people’s faith in him and would infuse a new strength and vigour among the outfit’s supporters.

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