The Ambedkarites, claimants to the political legacy of B R Ambedkar, are a worried lot as the two national parties — BJP and Congress — are projecting themselves as parties the Dalit voters can align with. They have tasted success and are making inroads into the Ambedkarite voter base.
The two Ambedkarite parties, the Republican Party of India led by Ramdas Athawale and the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh led by Prakash Ambedkar, are seeing a steady erosion of support base in their traditional strongholds.
Athawale’s attempt to consolidate all Dalit factions under a common umbrella last fortnight proved futile.
The two factions had been agitating for the 12-acre Indu Mills Land under the National Textile Corporation to house a memorial for Ambedkar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had swiftly intervened to transfer the land for the purpose and also promised all support from the Centre. Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary will be celebrated in 2016, and there are preparations for year-long programmes in commemoration of the event.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s recent initiative to buy the house in London where Ambedkar lived during his student days in 1921-22 was seen as a favourable response from the Centre.
Within six months of assuming office, Fadnavis deputed senior ministers Vinod Tawde and Dilip Kamble to pursue the project. Dalits, who constitute 10.6 per cent of the voter base in the state are departing from the usual electoral choices and increasingly transcending the caste divide.
One of the biggest changes seen was the sizeable Dalit vote getting transferred to the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). The Asaddudin Owaisi-led party is exploring alignments between Muslims and Dalits to broaden its support base. There were several Dalits fighting on an AIMIM ticket at the civic polls.
With such changes in the political scene, the Ambedkarite leaders show no concrete plan of action to retain their supporters.
“Today, the generation next Dalits feel let down by established leaders. The lack of dynamic leadership is the biggest challenge. As a result, individuals are making choices shedding all barriers to align with Congress, BJP, Sena et al,” said Dr Tusshar Jagtap, an Ambedkarite party activist.
Mainstream parties are moving to lure Dalits as local leaders and promote their cause. The BJP led the table in giving party ticket to Dalit candidates. Almost 10 per cent BJP candidates in the 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections were Dalits.
Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of B R Ambedkar, acknowledges that there is no visionary who can measure up to Babasaheb Ambedkar. “The vacuum is not just in Dalit leadership but also in mainstream parties including Congress and BJP. As a result people make available choices and wait for the right moment,” said Ambedkar.
Athawale who still wields influence among a committed lot of Buddhists is confident that his vote bank would retain intact and is not beyond his command. A senior RPI (A) official said, “We may not be able to show our strength on our own. But when we align with mainstream parties—(now BJP-Sena) or in the past Congress-NCP—it become a deciding force.”
Other observers say that the Dalit vote migrating to other parties is a temporary phenomenon.
Dalit writer Arjun Dangle said, “The real test for any leader would be in Parliamentary and Assembly elections. The civic polls are fought on very local issues. In 2006, young Dalits were drawn to Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navinirman Sena. At the time everybody thought it was the end of dalit organisations in the state. Today, a handful may have moved to AIMIM. But it won’t work.”