Dressed in dark blue kurta-pyjama, a yellow jacket and a turban, Ramdas Athawale ended his speech by shouting ‘Jai Bheem, Jai Bharat’. Though he looks a joker and a hysteric but he has very much weight in Maharashtra politics. After Ram Janmabhoomi Temple issue, he has demanded a piece of land for a Buddha temple in Ayodhya. His demands can’t be ignored because Dalit votes really matter for BJP; they have already lost to Pawar in the state, now it’s time for Bihar elections. A leader who is known to be a party hopper now has come in the news with his demand. Let’s see how the BJP takes it.
In Maharashtra, Dalits constitute 10.8 per cent votes. In Mumbai, the Dalit population is 16 per cent. This is where that the party feels that will work to its advantage in the 227 wards in the 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. Athawale is a Dalit leader and is a member of the Rajya Sabha. His 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 the BJP in the coming future. Anyways, Athawale has not proven his stand yet as leader or he did not do much for his community or state. He is 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 and very promptly, he cracks jokes and anything contemporary. One good thing about him is that he is fearless and always tells his alliance they are strong because he is with them, if they don’t behave, he can quit. He is good at mocking anyone.
Athawale, the president of the Republican Party of India has represented the Pandharpur constituency of Maharashtra. He also represented the Mumbai North Central in the 12th Lok Sabha in 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 the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections together. He lost in the Shirdi Lok Sabha constituency election in 2009. In 2014, again he joined the BJP and left the Shiv Sena. He is one political leader who has tried aligning with all political parties which he himself agrees too. Whichever party he feels strong at that point of time, he forms an alliance with it. In the 1970s, he was a firebrand activist who, under the banner of Dalit Panthers, rose in the political scenario.
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 a Brahmin woman and as result of which he wants inter-caste marriages to be encouraged by the government. He appealed to the state government to give government jobs to a person who marries out of his caste and give him some financial help to curb the caste discrimination in society. He wants that the Dalit youth should marry Brahmin girls and Dalit girls to Brahmin boys. Athawale is arguably the most potent mass leader in Dalit politics in Maharashtra. His rivals viz 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 that Athawale has bargained a great deal for the Dalit cause for his own gains. His commitment to the Dalit cause is always limited to symbolism and political exigencies of the day. Power politics has made him a white-collared 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 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 Dalit Panthers. The said party 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, the 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.
(Any suggestions, comments or dispute with regards to this article send us on firstname.lastname@example.org)