NEW DELHI: “I have got bail in all the 27 cases against me, but why am I still in jail, they want to kill me” Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar who has been in Saharanpur district jail since May, 2017 since he prevented a clash of communities, told youth leader Pradeep Narwal.

Narwal who met Chandrashekhar briefly said he was categorical that “the government wants to kill me” and his life was under threat. The Bhim Army chief was given bail by the Allahabad High Court last November but was not released, and kept in prison under fresh charges slapped on him under the National Security Act that does not allow bail.

Chandrashekhar, according to Narwal, spoke of how those vandalising schools are lauded as desh bhakts, and people like him working for education are put behind bars. “The government wants to kill me but I will keep fighting for justice and self respect of the Dalit community,” the Dalit leader reportedly said.

Attempts to create Dalit-Muslim violence in Saharanpur had been foiled last May by Chandrashekhar, a lawyer by profession, who ensured that the plan was exposed and the communities thus prevented from reacting to the street level propaganda. The state authorities immediately issued an arrest warrant, and after going underground for a few days, the dynamic young leader emerged at Jantar Mantar in Delhi where he addressed a huge rally. The cops did not move against him here, but arrested him later from Himachal Pradesh. He has been in jail now for seven months. In November he was free to walk out on bail but has been kept inside by the use of NSA. In October last year the Bhim Army alleged that he was beaten up inside the jail and injured.

Bhim Army leader Satish Gautam said that the “BJP government does not want him to come out and fight for the rights of Dalits.” Chandrashekhar is clearly seen as a threat by the ruling party in both Lucknow and the centre, as he is charismatic and now has a huge following in not just UP but across the states. Gautam earlier told the media, “the Allahabad high court saw the false grounds on which he was accused of violence and arrested by the UP police, and hence granted him bail. The BJP government did not like that and want to ensure that he remains in jai. But even the NSA will not last for long as the High Court will realise that the state government is being vindictive.”

Chandrashekhar, before the Saharanpur violence, had been working since 2015 to empower the Dalits in the area through education. He started the Bhim Army Ekta Mission, that grew to run about 300 schools in Saharanpur. 30 years old Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan as he is now popularly referred to, is dynamic and powerful in his oratory with the clear ability to attract and rouse the masses. “Mere saath kaho, hum is desh ke shashak hain” (repeat after me, we are the rulers of this country) was the call he gave in Delhi.

In 2015 this law graduate who calls himself Ravan created local stir by placing a board outside his village Dhadkuli in Saharanpur reading, “the great chamars of Dhadkauli welcome you.” Ge formed the Army shortly after, and as retired IPS officer SR Darapuri told The Citizen, he now commands a huge following from jail. According to Darapuri the Bahujan Samaj party following an old style of politics has been effectively challenged in UP by the Bhim Army that is attracting Dalit youth from all over the state. Equality and justice and empowerment, is the articulated theme of the Bhim Army.

The small organisation has expanded rapidly over the months since it first burst on the scene with the Saharanpur incident. Activists say that the membership has expanded rapidly with the second line of leadership working hard to fill the void created by Chandrashekhar’s arrest. The Bhim Army that was holding meetings in Delhi demanding their chief’s release from jail, have now been joined by others including newly elected Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani.