Ideology is dead. Alliances come and go, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray told a news TV interviewer recently in his characteristic ‘ take it or lump it a blunt style on politics being all about power. One politician who couldnalt146t have agreed mo
re with him is Ramdas Athawle, prominent Dalit leader and president of the Republican Party of India ( RPI- Athawle faction) denied his due share in elective politics, Athawle recently walked out of a three- decade long partnership with Nationalist Congress Party ( NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and joined hands with the Sena- BJP alliance. He has thrown his weight behind the saffron combineas plan to conduct a massive rally in Mumbai on June 9 to focus on the Congress- NCP coalition governments ‘ misrule in the state. This is his first step towards an eventual electoral tie- up with the BJP. Thackeray and Athawle have termed their newfoundfriendship as the union of two major political forces— Shiv Shakti ( saffron force led by the Sena) and Bhim Shakti ( the Dalit force led by the follower of the late Dr. Bhimrao Amedkar).
Observers see in this development a potential tectonic shift in Maharashtra politics. There is sizeable neo- Buddhist Dalit vote in the state. But it is fragmented among various RPI factions.
None of the faction leaders therefore has enough electoral clout to demand significant share in power. Given the neo- Buddhistsa historical antagonism towards the rightwing parties dominated by caste Hindus, they are successfully wooed during the elections by Congress and the like- minded parties claiming to have provided the Dalit empowerment in the state. Tactical voting by Dalits in their favour has helped these ‘ secularalt146 parties to get swing votes to grab power by defeating the Sena- BJP alliance.
The BJP has consciously wooed the OBCs and other caste groups on the fringes of the society over the past two decades to bridge this vital gap. BJP has also been instrumental in wooing to the saffron side disgruntled Athawle who heads the most influential RPI faction with grassroots support in the state.
The party also managed to convince Thackeray and Athawle to overcome the past violent animosity between the Sena and the neo- Buddhists over the emotive issues like renaming of the Marathwada university in Aurangabad after Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.
Athawles move has evoked sharp reactions from the Congress and NCP dubbing him as ‘ opportunist and ‘ turncoat. Progressive, liberal intellectuals and newspaper columnists think Athawle has committed a sacrilege by joining what they call the very ‘ fundamentalistalt146forces responsible for centuries of tyranny against Dalits.
Athawlealt146s critics have termed his turnaround as an ideological blunder and betrayal of Dalit cause for the sake of gaining a position of power. Athawle has hit back saying that those who have called him ‘ power- mongera and ‘ opportunist have themselves changed political colours for power in their long careers to grab power.
Athawle has a point. Many heavyweights in the state politics, including Y. B. Chavan, Shankarrao Chavan ( both diseased), Vilasrao Deshmukh and Balasaheb Vikhe Patil, had deserted the Congress and come back to the party fold to retain their hold on power. Pawars case is unique. He quit the Congress, returned to it and quit it again on the issue of Mrs.
Sonia Gandhis foreign origin and formed the NCP. But he had no compunctions in striking an alliance with the Congress later in Maharashtra to retain power at the state and national levels.
Undeterred by this duplicity, Athawles detractors are now busy reminding the neo- Buddhists of the Senas violent opposition to the Dalit agenda, and urging them not to give up their ideology for the sake of power.
What they leave unsaid is that both the Congress and the NCP have brazenly exploited Dalits for political gains by throwing a few crumbs to some Dalit leaders but left the community on the fringes of power politics. Athawle has been the victim of t
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