RPI's Ramdas Athawale: The dilemmas of an insecure Dalit leader
By tomorrow, Ramdas Athawale, leader of the largest Dalit faction in Maharashtra, will have to decide whether he will join the ministry in Maharashtra or hope to join the Modi government in Delhi.
Should Ramdas Athawale, the Republican Party of India (RPI) leader elected to the Rajya Sabha on the BJP’s vote share in the previous Maharashtra state legislature, quit the seat and return to Maharashtra to be sworn in as a minister in the Devendra Fadnavis ministry?
He has a difficult choice to make since otherwise he would have to nominate another Dalit leader, which he appears to be wary about.
This apparently was the deal which led to his agreeing to join the BJP-led coalition in the election and abandon the Shiv Sena with which he had built the Shiv Shakti-Bhim Shakti platform. He had figured out which way the wind was blowing just around the time the BJP and Sena broke up and jumped on the Modi bandwagon.
Athawale is said to be averse, at the same time, of nominating any other Dalit leader from his party’s ranks since those he had trusted in the past had grown bigger than he would have liked. He does not want any new rallying point to emerge in the state when he is busy with his own ministerial tasks in Delhi. He seems not to know when, and if, he would be inducted by Modi into his team. Having once served a term as minister in Maharashtra in the 1990s, he is enchanted with the idea of a post in Delhi.
Athawale’s RPI is easily the most visible and raucous Dalit outfit in Maharashtra and it has been changing its ideological stance rather frequently. But that is driven by Athawale’s brand of politics where he unabashedly says he was betrayed by the Nationalist Congress Party which had promised him a berth in Delhi in 2009.
At a public meeting in Lonavla during Lok Sabha campaign, attended by Amit Shah, he said that “unless I change friends, I get no gains”. That is what, he said, he has been doing in politics and the ‘gain’ he spoke about was a ministerial berth, promised but undelivered by Sharad Pawar with whom he had allied in the earlier Lok Sabha polls. His patience ran out after a five-year wait, and he moved to the saffron side.
In Maharashtra, Athawale has to choose his nominee who, in turn, would have to be elected to the Legislative Council within six months because the RPI did not win any seats in the last assembly elections. Strangely, as many as five neo-Buddhist candidates of other parties won from reserved and non-reserved seats, but his own party drew a blank. In contrast, Athawale’s rival in Dalit politics, Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) managed to win one seat.
Athawale’s dilemma is indeed huge for his experience with nominating other Dalits has been bad. Pudhari, a Marathi newspaper chain, has listed his unsavoury experiences. One, TM Kamble, who was made an MLC, wanted to be given another term. When not obliged, he broke away and set up his own party. Two, Gangadhar Gade, though not a legislator, was made a minister in the 1990s, but when he sought to establish his own identity, Athawale failed to nominate him for the legislative council. When his six months as minister of state ended, Gade had to exit. Furious, he set up his own outfit.
Instead, Dayanand Mhaske was brought into the picture, and with only two years of his term left, landed a junior ministership. He was also seen to be conducting himself, in Athawale’s perception, haughtily and he did not get another term. Then in came Pritamkumar Shegaonkar, who was also seen in a similar light and he did not remain in his leader’s favour. This is quite a revolving gate set up by Athawale.
It shows up an insecure leader who does not want to nurture a second line of leadership lest he face a challenge. Splits and unifications are common to the RPI which went through four such major splits since the 1950s and of all the factions that emerged – some 13 can be counted now – the Republican Party of India (Athawale) is the most sensitive political weathercock.
This time Athawale will have to decide whom to nominate for the state ministry, when it is expanded with the entry of the Shiv Sena. If he returns to state politics himself, a smaller ally of the BJP could be sent to the Rajya Sabha in his place, perhaps Mahadeo Jankar of the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha.
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