Dressed in dark blue kurta-pyjama, a yellow jacket and a turban, Ramdas Athawale finished his oath by shouting the slogan of ‘Jai Bheem, Jai Bharat’. He was looking like a joker and hysteric. I’m really surprised that why and for what reason, he is being allotted a ministry. He is a man, who forgot to say his name while taking an oath as a Minister of State (MoS), just imagine. The Maharashtra leader had to be nudged by President of India to take his name mid-way into the oath. Athawale’s induction into the council of ministers may be seen as balancing important caste equations ahead of crucial elections in Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai.
In Maharashtra, Dalits constitute 10.8 per cent votes. In Mumbai, Dalit population is 16 per cent that the party feels will work to its advantage in the 227 wards in BMC elections, which is due for next year. 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 elections. He is a Dalit leader and is a member of the Rajya Sabha. Athawale’s party, the Republican Party of India, is an ally of the BJP in Maharashtra. Some are even speculating that he can merge his party with BJP in the near future. Anyway, 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. He is an extempore at poetry; very promptly he cracks jokes and anything contemporary. One good thing about him is that he is fearless and always tells his alliance that they are strong because he is with them, if they don’t behave properly then he can quit them. He is good at mocking anyone.
Today, he said “Desh mein chal rahi hain Narendra Modi ki Aandhi, Usme Ud Jayenge Sabhi Gandhi”. (There is a Narendra Modi storm across the nation, and it will sweep away all Gandhis).
Athawale is the president of the Republican Party of India. 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. Ramdas Athawale lost in the Shirdi Lok Sabha constituency election in 2009. In 2014 assembly election, again he joined BJP and left Shiv Sena alone. He is one political leader who tried 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 Dalit activist. His mother wanted him to do some work or job but he refused that and joined social revolution and meanwhile joined causes that are dear to the Dalit constituency. 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 he 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 outside his caste and give them some financial help to curb the caste discrimination existing in the society. He wants Dalit youth should marry Brahmin Girls and Dalit girls 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 compared well with Athawale 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-collar politician like it has 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. Those days, he used to fight street battles with Shiv Sena, 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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