Thursday, August 5, 2021
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Athawale: An opportunistic politician

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]epublican Party of India (RPI) (Athawale unit) leader, Ramdas Athawale is not happy with the ministry alloted to him i.e. Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment because he feels that there is nothing much to perform or show potential in this department. Athawale also became disappointed because this post was offered to him just to appease Dalits in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, but the recent protest in Gujarat has changed the mindset of Dalits against BJP. If BJP is in illusion that Ramdas Athawale can really perform some magic then they should be careful as he can pull their carpet anytime.

In Maharashtra, Dalits constitute 10.8 per cent votes. In Mumbai, Dalit population is 16 per cent as the party feels will work to its advantage in the 227 wards in BMC elections. There are at least 60 BMC wards in Mumbai with a Dalit population ranging from 10,000 to over a lakh. Athawale is expected to help in vote transformation of Dalits in favour of BJP candidates in the BMC polls. He is a Dalit leader and is a member of the Rajya Sabha. Athawale’s party is an ally of the BJP in Maharashtra. Some are even speculating that he can merge his party with BJP in future. Anyways, Athawale has not proven his stand yet as a leader nor did he do much for his community or state.

He is a poet and very famous for his four liner stand-up comedy speeches. He is also known for his fashion statement of wearing gaudy colours and combinations, with all sorts of odds. His public speaking has generous spoons of laughter mostly due to his poetry. Athawale is an extempore at poetry; very promptly he cracks jokes on any contemporary topic. One good quality about Athawale is that he is fearless and always tell his alliance they are strong because he is with them. If they don’t behave they are free to quit the party. He is good at mocking anyone.

Athawale represented the Pandharpur constituency of Maharashtra in Lower House of Parliament. He also represented Mumbai North Central in 12th Lok Sabha during 1998-99. He left the NCP-Congress alliance in 2011 after having lost the 2009 Lok Sabha election. Athawale led the RPI party, joined the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in 2011 and contested Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections together. He lost the Shirdi Lok Sabha constituency election in 2009. In 2014 again, he joined BJP and left Shiv Sena when both the parties decided to go solo in general elections of 2014. He is one political leader who has allied with all political parties, which he himself agrees too. Whichever party he feels strong at that point of time, he joins them.

In the 1970s, he was a firebrand activist who, under the banner of Dalit Panthers joined causes that are dear to the Dalit constituency. His mother wanted him to do some work or job but he refused. Athawale was one of the only two politicians in Maharashtra—the other being Sharad Pawar—who could call out his karyakartas (workers) and followers by their first name wherever they went in the state.

Athawale married to a Brahmin woman, and wants inter caste marriages to be encouraged by government. He appealed state government to give government jobs to a person who marries out of his caste and offer them some financial help to curb the caste discrimination in the society. He wants Dalit youth should marry Brahmin girls and Dalit girls should get married to Brahmin boys.

Athawale is arguably the most potent mass leader in Dalit politics in Maharashtra. His rivals—B.R. Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar and Vidarbha-based Jogendra Kawade—never came close to him in terms of popularity with the Dalit masses. Yet, political observers in Maharashtra who have followed Dalit politics insist Athawale has bargained a great deal on the Dalit cause for his own gains. His commitment to Dalit cause is always limited to symbolism and political exigencies of the day. Power politics has made him a white-collared politician unlike other Dalit leaders in Maharashtra. Still, he retains a rare personal warmth and openness, no other Dalit leader has. There is nothing much to talk about his achievements as leader or his contribution to society as Dalit neta. He always lived in his fancy world with his whimsies.

Athawale was one of the Dalit activists in 1972 when Namdeo Dhasal, a formidable revolutionary poet and Dalit activist, along with others, founded Dalit Panthers. Dalit Panthers later spilt into several splinter groups and Athawale went with Arun Kamble, a Buddhist scholar and one of the founders. It was the issue of renaming of Marathwada University after B.R. Ambedkar in 1977 that provided a boost to Athawale. In those days, he used to fight on street with Shiv Sena’s sainik, which was against the renaming. This was also the time, when Athawale travelled across Maharashtra to mobilise support. He still retains many of the followers and supporters he enrolled during this period. In the mid-80s, then Maharashtra Chief Minister Sharad Pawar spotted Athawale’s talent as an organiser and leader of the Dalit masses. After much persuasion, Athawale became a minister for social welfare in the Pawar government. This was the beginning of his end as a raw, activist, politician.

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Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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