SAHARANPUR: In a move which can upset the BSP-SP-RLD alliance in the state, Dalit group Bhim Army, which has a considerable following in western Uttar Pradesh, has appealed to members of the community to vote for Congress' Saharanpur Lok Sabha candidate Imran Masood.
The move comes days after Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati described Bhim Army founder Chandrashekhar Azad as a "BJP agent" and accused him of trying to divide Dalit votes.
The call to support Masood, who had hogged headlines during the 2014 general elections for his controversial remarks against Narendra Modi, was taken Monday.
An announcement was to be made during a rally of Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and party general secretary for east Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in Saharanpur, but the public meeting was called of due to bad weather, district president of the Bhim Army Rohit Raj Gautam said.
"Masood helped the Bhim Army when no one else came out in its support," he said, referring to police cases against the Dalit group's members following caste clashes in Saharanpur in May 2017.
"We want to make it clear that we are not supporting the Congress. We are backing Masood on a personal level because he helped us at a time when no one was ready to listen to us," Gautam said.
The BSP-SP-RLD alliance has fielded Faizul Rehman from the seat. Sitting BJP MP Raghav Lakhanpal is seeking re-election from the constituency.
At a joint rally in Deoband in the constituency on Sunday, Mayawati had appealed to Muslim voters to consolidate behind Rehman and ensure that their votes do not get split.
A Bhim Army leader alleged that BSP-SP activists manhandled a number of Dalits carrying pictures of Chandrashekhar at the rally and tore their posters.
Congress general secretary for east Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had met Chandrashekhar at a Meerut hospital last month, which was seen as a Dalit outreach move of the party.
Recently, after Chandrashekhar announced to contest against Prime Minister Modi in Varanasi, Mayawati had termed him an "agent of the BJP who wants to split Dalit votes".
In response to her remark, Chandrashekhar had said SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and his father Mulayam Singh were "agents of the BJP" as they "allowed atrocities on Dalits".
During the 2018 Kairana Lok Sabha bypoll, the Bhim Army had made an appeal to voters in favour of the opposition candidate, RLD's Tabassum Hassan, who managed to get Dalit support.
Earlier, the Bhim Army's national president Vinay Ratan Singh had said the Congress did nothing for Dalits during its 60-year rule and there was no reason for them to support the party in the elections.
In 2014, Lakhanpal polled 4,27,999 votes. Masood came close second garnering 4,07, 909 votes. The constituency has a total of 17,22,580 voters, of which six lakh are Muslims. There are around three lakh SC/ST voters. Saharanpur goes to polls in the first phase on April 11.