Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad on Friday addressed a rally with Bahujan Samaj Party founder Kanshi Ram's sister and announced that he will contest the Lok Sabha elections against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the Varanasi seat, a move that is likely to upset the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in Uttar Pradesh.
The Bhim Army, which has been trying to mobilise Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, also said that it will field a candidate against Union minister Smriti Irani and 'wherever there's a need of a strong nominee against the Bharatiya Janata Party'.
At the rally organised to mark the 85th birth anniversary of Bahujan Samaj Party founder Kanshi Ram, Chandrashekhar said he would ensure that PM Modi is not re-elected to the Lok Sabha from Varanasi.
"I will challenge Narendra Modi in Varanasi... to protect the Constitution and the rights of Dalits. I do not want to become an MP or MLA. Had that been the case, I would have chosen a reserved seat," he said.
"After the prime minister came to know that we are going to challenge him in Varanasi, he started washing the feet of sanitation workers in Allahabad," the Bhim Army chief said.
Azad 'welcomed' support of all parties, including the Congress, to defeat Modi in Varanasi and appealed to the Samjwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance to either back his candidature or field their top leaders from the constituency.
The Dalit leader's comment came two days after Congress general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi Vadra met him at a hospital in Meerut.
The BJP is yet to announce the constituency from where Modi will contest the upcoming election.
Referring to incidents of violence and atrocities against the Dalits in different parts of the country, the young leader said, "A tyrant is a tyrant, he can never be a well-wisher...That's why I said we can repeat (the Battle of) Bhima Koregaon...
"The need for it has not arisen yet, but we can do it if the Constitution comes under attack."
Chandrashekhar alleged that the Narendra Modi government's decision to give 10 per cent quota to the general category poor is an attack on the Constitution and is aimed at serving the BJP's interests.
Recalling that Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav's comment in Parliament that Modi should become prime minister again, he asked Akhilesh Yadav to answer if his party will protect the rights of Dalits if they voted for it.
The Dalit leader also said the SP-BSP alliance should 'send (Kanshi Ram's sister) Swarn Kaur to Parliament'.
Bhim Army vice president Manjeet Nautiyal said that they will field a candidate against Irani and 'also on the seats where the SP-BSP alliance is not strong enough to defeat the BJP'.
Asked if the Dalit group will support the Congress, he said the Rahul Gandhi-led party did not fight for Dalits for the last 70 years. "The Congress and the BJP are two sides of the same coin".
Talking to PTI after he addressed the rally, Chandrashekhar said, "The SP and the BSP should support my candidature from Varanasi to take on Modi. Else, my condition is, they should field any one among Mulayam Singh Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati.
"We are supporting the SP-BSP alliance in 79 other constituencies from Uttar Pradesh, they should support us in one seat...I don't want Modi to win again from Varanasi."
Asked if he would also seek the support of the Congress, he said, "Whoever is ready to fight with us against the BJP is welcome."
In what is being seen as a Dalit outreach move, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Wednesday met Azad at a Meerut hospital.
Until now, the Bhim Army had been saying that it won't contest elections.
It had welcomed the SP-BSP alliance in the state and said it would support anyone who's ready to take on the BJP and fight for Dalit rights.
The Chandrashekhar-led group shot to limelight during the May 2017 clashes between Dalits and upper caste Thakurs in Saharanpur.
Chandrashekhar was arrested after the clashes. Though he was granted bail by the Allahabad High Court, the UP Police arrested him under the stringent National Security Act. He was released in September 2018 after 16 months in jail.