ast year, as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s allies in Maharashtra began to drop off one-by-one, including the smaller parties such as the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, it looked like the only ally it would be left with was Ramdas Athawale, the leader of his own faction of the Republican Party of India (RPI).
Athawale began his electoral career as an ally of the Congress and then switched to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). In 2009, he switched back to the Congress to contest the Lok Sabha elections from the temple town of Shirdi which had become a reserved constituency. He lost and switched to the Shiv Sena hoping to be accommodated in the Rajya Sabha. He finally got the nomination from the BJP, which made him a Minister of State for Social Welfare believing Athawale could deliver the bulk of the Dalit votes from Maharashtra.
However, now the BJP has reviewed and revised that assessment. Across India, the party seems to have come to the conclusion that it is not worth allying with any party that cannot help bring it at least five seats to the Lok Sabha.
Anyhow, in 2014, Ramdas Athawale was given some insignificant ministry and there was nothing much to perform or show potential; he also got disappointed because that post was given to him just to appease the Dalits in Maharashtra, but the recent protest in Gujarat has changed the mindset of Dalit against BJP. If BJP is in the illusion that Ramdas Athawale can really do some magic, then they should be careful as Athawale can pull their carpet anytime.
In Maharashtra, Dalits constitute 10.8 per cent votes. In Mumbai, the Dalit population is 16 per cent that the party feels will work to its advantage in the upcoming 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 polls. Athawale 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 even speculate that he can merge his party with BJP in the coming future. Anyway, Athawale has not proven his stand yet as a leader or he did not do much for his community or state.
He is a poet and very famous for his four liners 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, he can quit them. He is good at mocking anyone.
Athawale is a member of Rajya Sabha and represented the Pandharpur constituency of Maharashtra and 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, again he joined BJP and left Shiv Sena. 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 activist under the banner of Dalit Panthers; his mother wanted him to do some work or job but he refused that and joined the 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 the government; he appealed the state government to give government jobs to a person who marries out of his caste and give them some financial help that could help to curb the caste discrimination in the society. He wants Dalit youth should marry Brahmin girls and Dalit girls to marry Brahmin boys.
Athawale is arguably the most potent mass leader in Dalit politics in Maharashtra. His rivals — BR Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar and Vidarbha-based Jogendra Kawade — never compared well with Athawale in terms of popularity with the Dalit masses. Yet, the political observers in Maharashtra who have followed the 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 that no other Dalit leader has. There is nothing much to talk about his achievements as a leader or his contribution to society as a 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 the 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 the renaming of Marathwada University after BR Ambedkar in 1977 that provided a boost to Athawale. In 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 the 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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