Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad recently announced that his party, the Azad Samaj Party, will contest Vidhan Sabha elections in Bihar this year, and that the party has started preparing for the same. Criticising the current JD(U)-BJP government, he said that half of Bihar is still flooded, and the problem of unemployment is very prevalent in Bihar, with large numbers of people migrating to other states for work.
The lack of employment and decline in the economy in Bihar has led to Bihar becoming the top-most source of out-migrants in the country. Most of these are labour migrants, and a huge majority of these labour migrants are members of communities that have been historically oppressed and stigmatised, i.e. Dalit-Bahujan castes. Hindus, as well as Muslims from among these communities, make up the migrants.
Officially launched on March 15, 2020, Chandrashekhar Azad asserted that the Azad Samaj Party was not just another political party, but rather a movement to reclaim the constitutional rights of every individual, especially the Dalits, tribal people, marginalised communities and women, and was firmly grounded in the ideals of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the political vision of Kanshiram. He said that this party aims to fill the void created by the unfortunate decline of the BSP, caused by the fact that the party brought upper-castes into positions of power.
Historically, the landowning status of upper castes in Bihar has not changed, sustaining even through changes in legislations through loopholes, and supported by a government dominated by upper castes as well. The domination of upper castes in the government changed slightly after the Mandal Commission and under the governments of Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar.
However, upper caste assertions have also stopped many attempts at increasing social justice, especially under the Nitish Kumar-BJP government, such as the disbanding of the Amir Das Commission that had been constituted to probe the role of the Ranvir Sena in caste massacres, and rejected the recommendations of the Bihar Land Reforms Commission, 2006-2008 which had proposed land distribution. The presence of the upper-caste militia that is responsible for massacres against Dalits and is still operational is also telling in understanding the dominance of upper-castes in Bihar, and violence against Dalits is extremely prevalant. This dominance and power is in stark contrast to the share of the population that the upper-castes have in Bihar, which is merely 15%. These castes can broadly be caterogised as Brahmins, Bhumihars, Kayasthas, and Rajputs.
With its message of social justice, and promise to prioritise the Bahujan of the state, the Azad Samaj Party’s participation in this election is extremely promising and if they win enough seats, can lead to a new era for gradually reversing the years of caste-based oppression in the state.