The Dalits in Maharashtra are decisive in tilting the political fortunes in the State. The 1998 Lok Sabha polls had proved this when various fractions of the Ambedkarite Republican Party had unified for the first time and won as many as four Lok Sabha seats in the State. At that time, RS Gavai (Amravati), Prakash Ambedkar (Akola), Ramdas Athavale (Pandharpur) and Jogendra Kawade (Chimur) were elected to the Lok Sabha.
This was possible as the Congress with Sharad Pawar as the Chief Minister in Maharashtra was instrumental in forging the RPI factions unity. The Congress had then won 33 seats and the RPI had wrested the four seats of the total 48 Lok Sabha seats in the State.
With the recent incidents at Koregaon-Bhima, Dalits and others are perceiving some signs of consolidation of the Dalit force and emergence of a Dalit leadership in the persona of Prakash Ambedkar.
Although, Ambedkar has never been a minister in Maharashtra or at the Centre, he is not a political novice. The grandson of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, he had first entered the Rajya Sabha in 1990 and was later elected to the Lok Sabha twice. His name had also cropped up as the Left’s candidate for the Presidential election last year. Incidentally, Ambedkar had come into the limelight for the first time when with his social engineering of the Dalits, Muslims and the OBCs, he succeeded in winning power in various bodies in Akola district and this came to be known as the Akola pattern.
Ambedkar’s party is aptly named as Bharipa (Bharatiya Republican Party) Bahujan Mahasangh. It is, therefore, not surprising that in his latest campaign related to the Koregaon-Bhima war monument anniversary, Ambedkar again succeeded in unifying the Dalits and other communities. The Koregaon-Bhima incidents and the subsequent reactions in Maharashtra and the Parliament have for the first time catapulted Ambedkar at the centre stage in Dalit politics in the country.
The recent Maharashtra bandh, called by Ambedkar, to protest against Koregaon-Bhima violence, had evoked response almost all over the State, indicating successful social engineering by the organisers. The Ambedkarite or the Republican Dalit leaders often need the support of a major political party to win a poll or build their base. The main political parties are too glad to take Dalit leaders under their wings in exchange for the community’s votes. In contrast, this has been for the first time that a Dalit leader has come on a political centre stage on his own in Maharashtra.
The rise of Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani as a firebrand activist in Gujarat and unification of Dalits in Maharashtra post Koregaon-Bhima riots has been termed as the indication of the Dalits now asserting their rights. The political weather is expected to turn hotter ahead of the next general elections. The next moves of Prakash Ambedkar as a strong challenger to the ruling establishments in Maharashtra and in New Delhi will henceforth be keenly observed by his followers and others alike.
The Dalit Unity
Prakash Ambedkar’s party is aptly named as Bharipa (Bharatiya Republican Party) Bahujan Mahasangh. It is, therefore, not surprising that in his latest campaign related to the Koregaon-Bhima war monument anniversary, Ambedkar again succeeded in unifying the Dalits and other communities.