- Jyotiraditya Scindia went with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to the hospital
- Both political leaders denied any political twist in the visit
- The Bhim Army chief's supporters had blocked their way for 15 minutes
In a politically-loaded hospital visit, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Wednesday travelled to Meerut in Uttar Pradesh to call upon Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, also known as Ravan, a very influential Dalit leader who is known to be a spoiler in poll arithmetic. "I will go to Varanasi to contest the election against Prime Minister Narendra Modi," declared the 30-year-old, speaking to NDTV from his hospital bed after the Congress leader's visit.
The Bhim Army activist, a lawyer, was arrested in Deoband for poll code violation when he was planning to take out a motorcycle rally, allegedly without permission. He reportedly fell ill after he was taken into custody, and then admitted to hospital.
In visuals that may stand out as campaigning intensifies for the polls next month, Priyanka Gandhi was seen sitting by the bedside of Chandrashekhar, who was in a hoodie. Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is sharing the responsibility of the UP campaign with Priyanka Gandhi, was also present.
They denied any political twist in the visit.
As they arrived at the hospital, Chandrashekhar's supporters had blocked their way. They finally relented after 15 minutes of convincing.
"I have come here to pay a visit and find out about his health. He is a young leader, he wants to speak, but this government is so arrogant, that it wants to crush a young leader. He should not have been arrested should be allowed to speak out. I like the josh in Chandrashekhar, that is why I came," Priyanka Gandhi told reporters. It was just a gesture of showing solidarity, no politics there, she added.
But in a region where Dalits make up 30 per cent of the population, those words can't be taken at face value.
Priyanka Gandhi, who was last month given charge of the Congress's campaign in 41 seats in Uttar Pradesh - the state with the most number of Lok Sabha seats - for the April-May national election, has been talking to smaller parties over the past few weeks.
The visuals of her meeting with Chandrashekhar Azad are likely to send out a pointed message to Dalits at a time Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati is trying her best to consolidate their votes.
Dalit supporters of Mayawati and those of Chandrashekhar are said to be ranged against each other.
With his statements criticizing the Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav alliance, Chandrashekhar Azad is seen to be pitching himself as an alternative for Dalits. He had announced that he would contest against PM Modi in Varanasi if the Samajwadi-BSP alliance did not put up a strong candidate there. "We don't want the support of any political party. I will go to Varanasi to fight elections against PM Modi. I don't care who supports me," he told NDTV.
Then he added: "Mayawati and Akhilesh should support us."
The Bhim Army chief, jailed for a year on controversial charges of endangering national security, was released last year. Known for his aviators and distinctive moustache, Chandrashekhar launched the Bhim Army in 2014 for young Dalits.
His release was seen by many as a BJP plan to throw a challenge at Mayawati at a crucial time.