Prakash Ambedkar is leader of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM). He was a member of the 13th Lok Sabha. He has twice represented the Lok Sabha constituency of Akola, Maharashtra. Ambedkar has served in both Houses. He is now emerging as the opposition face in Maharashtra. He spoke exclusively to Siddharth Gadkari on current political issues on the eve of Sakal Times’ 10th anniversary. He said new social forces have emerged after the Bhima Koregaon and other incidents, which will influence the outcome of the future elections.
Are you and your party going to contest the next elections?
We are going to contest all seats in Maharashtra, not on our own but in the form of the third front. I am not going to contest elections. For the first time, the third front has emerged powerful and would be a formidable force in Maharashtra. The Congress and the NCP are unable to sense this new development. The Congress is still in a dilemma to field Nana Patole, who left the BJP as an MP from the Bhandara-Gondia constituency and has joined the Congress. The bypoll for the seat will be held after Patole’s resignation. The third front will be a deciding factor in the upcoming polls.
How are you preparing for the upcoming polls?
The BJP appears to be in a better position. From my point of view, the social forces that want to join us should actually do so. Until that happens, it is a dicey situation. I cannot predict anything. We have demonstrated it theoretically. Now, we have to see how things unfold practically. It depends more on the poor section of the Maratha community. For the first time, the Maratha community’s one section has realised that they have been used against the Muslims. This will be a big test. We are also taking the Dhangar community along. They want to become the ruling caste and are negotiating with the tribals on the reservation issue. As against the Congress policy of appeasement, the BJP has been provoking communities against each other.
What is your assessment of the Dalits in the background of the Bhima Koregaon incident?
There is a big change in the scheduled caste politics. Other communities want to join forces with the Dalits. The Koregaon Bhima and other incidents indicate mobilisation of like-minded forces in that direction. This is happening for the first time in Maharashtra. The Dalit leadership is being recognised and respected by other communities as well. The OBCs have become assertive. They are demanding their share. Small groups are uniting to demand their rights. The Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha bypoll will reflect this new development. It is a litmus test for parties as well as these social forces. We see it as an experiment. How these forces would consolidate and their acceptability will play a major role. If this experiment fails, there would be a status quo.
How do you differentiate between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress governments?
The Congress and BJP governments differ in two aspects. The Congress government was dominated by the Maratha community. They were openly favouring their own community. Many government or semi-government schemes or projects went to rich Maratha families such as sugar factories, district cooperative banks and marketing committees. Power was concentrated in this class of the Marathas. They never cared for other communities. However, they ‘doled out’ leftovers to other communities. They so-to-say cared for these communities as long as they supported their government. When they realised that other communities started opposing them, they started torturing members of these communities. There was a human face of the Congress government. They never neglected communities, groups or opposition parties even though they launched morchas and agitations against the Congress government. They at least gave a patient hearing to their demands, though they might not have fulfilled them.
There is a major crisis today under the BJP government that all the communities are feeling insecure. During the Maratha (Congress) regime, everyone got at least something (it might not have been enough). Today, the government is taking from everybody but not giving away anything to anyone. This government didn’t provide help to farmers during droughts. I admired the Congress government that they extended financial assistance to the poor and needy. This government’s attitude is that they want to make the weaker sections of society self-reliant. This is the attitudinal difference between the Congress and the BJP governments. The Congress government was diplomatic while treating various sections of society while the BJP government is treating people in classes. The attitude that they are from a different class persists.
How do you analyse the current condition of the Dalits, OBCs and the minorities? What would be their stance in the upcoming polls?
This government is isolating and branding people opposing it, which happened in case of the Elgaar Parishad. Later, various communities took out morchas for quotas, which was really unfortunate. The BJP is assuming that the Congress is nowhere. The BJP also holds sway over the Nationalist Congress party (NCP). It is using corruption charges against NCP leaders to mellow them down.
Various social forces are raising their voice. The BJP never anticipated this. It is a sudden upsurge and the BJP is responsible for this. The party is confident that it has succeeded in handling the political unrest. No party took a stand on this political situation. They never anticipated that social forces would immerse so strongly. Their prediction went wrong. The BJP suppressed the Muslims. They applied the policy of ‘divide and rule’. The issue of urban Naxalism is being raised by the BJP without any basis. Trade unions don’t understand what is going on. They don’t know that this government is sabotaging trade unions. The government arrested top nine trade unionists. It wants to modify labour laws and weaken unions. It arrested people hailing from Telangana but they are not Naxalites.
Do you think these social forces will be a deciding factor in the polls?
Common people have stood behind these social forces, which are doing constructive work. The character of these social forces changes from project to project. These are development-oriented forces. They have realised that they have been working for development. However, they now want to play a role as a constructive opposition. Now, they are emerging as a strong opposition in the absence of the Congress not playing its role as an opposition party in the State. These social forces played an indirect role in the Gujarat elections and the Congress got its benefit. The BJP was claiming a landslide victory before the elections, which it didn’t get. These social forces have created anti-BJP sentiments, which will help a party taking the lead as an opposition, not just the Congress. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, there were two strong rival parties.
Now, a third alternative is emerging. It points toward a coalition government. The BJP was assuming a cake walk in the next elections, which will not happen. In Karnataka, there was a scenario two months ago that the Congress would sweep the elections. Left parties and smaller forces demanded some seats from the Congress during the seat-sharing talks. The party refused to oblige. This may make the Congress the single largest party but it would fall short of getting a simple majority. The party should realise that the situation is not in their favour. They should also accommodate other opposition parties. The outcome of the 2019 general elections would be good for the people and the Indian democracy.
Please comment on major parties’ position in Maharashtra?
The BJP has successfully weakened the Congress. Now, they are targeting the communists, who are active in certain parts of the country. They have pocketed the NCP. The Shiv Sena has openly rebelled against the BJP. In politics, there should be two options. The Shiv Sena has not kept the other option open, for which it will have to pay a heavy price. The Shiv Sena has to field its candidates. Nana Patole left the BJP by challenging its leadership. So, Patole is now a prestigious seat for the Congress. The BJP has not shaken even after many negativities. The party still feels that it would manage the situation. Otherwise, it would not have saved Sambhaji Bhide.
What is your opinion about the three Dalit BJP MPs (Amar Sable, Ramdas Athawale and Narendra Jadhav) from Maharashtra?
They have been made MPs in Rajya Sabha to counter my opposition to the ruling dispensation. They do not have the support of the Dalits, which I enjoy.
Will you think money power will threaten the unity of the third front?
In upcoming polls, money won’t play a major role. Till date, every ruling party made money through illegal means. Our front is against such politics.
What will be the role of the Communist Parties in the elections?
I am talking about Maharashtra-based Left parties. The Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist Party of India (Marxists - CPM) have joined us in agitations. However, currently, the CPM is hobnobbing with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). They may or may not join the third front during the elections. The Peasants and Workers Party will align with the Shiv Sena and the BJP. The Left parties are with me at the Centre. The CPI will have to take a firm decision in the coming elections.