Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) president Prakash Ambedkar, whose party is going solo in the Assembly elections in the state next month, plans to field candidates in all 288 constituencies in Maharashtra, both to expand the organisational footprint and to make inroads in Western Maharashtra, where the BJP-Shiv Sena and Congress-NCP are poised for a big fight.
The decision to go solo in the elections has set many Ambedkarites wondering whether the VBA chief would be able to pull off such a mammoth exercise, which would require both resources and manpower. Specially, when it comes to taking on the Congress-NCP and Shiv Sena-BJP.
Outside the VBA headquarters at Ambedkar Bhawan in Dadar (East), Mumbai, the number of aspirants seeking ticket to contest the elections has multiplied manifold, often keeping the leader awake past midnight.
Ambedkar’s politics in the last four decades has seen a paradigm shift. The grandson of B R Ambedkar had inherited the legacy of Dalit politics in his youth days. Instead of adding one more faction to the already existing nine splinter groups under the umbrella of Republican Party of India, Ambedkar decided to redefine his politics beyond Dalits.
On July 4, 1994, Ambedkar launched the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM), hoping to broaden the OBC base. Almost six months ahead of the Lok Sabha elections this year, Ambedkar reworked his strategy, announcing the VBA.
Explaining the transition, Ambedkar said, “Whether it was the BBM or VBA, our ideology remains the same. What we have done is expand our electoral base to accommodate larger segments. The BBM catered to certain communities. But the VBA’s doors are open to all oppressed and suppressed segments across class, caste and religion.”
The focus is Western Maharashtra with a new plan, which will spring many surprises, he stressed.
The decision to field 288 candidates is a serious attempt to come back to centrestage politics in Maharashtra, he revealed. “In 1995, we had made a similar attempt by uniting all faction-ridden Dalit outfits to give mainstream Congress and BJP-Shiv Sena a big fight,” he said.
While indicating that the VBA’s mainstay was Malli, Dhangars, Dalits and Muslims, the organisation is planning alliances with smaller sub-castes and groups region-wise. In Vidarbha, the party is also wooing Kunbhis or the Halba-Koshi community.
Ambedkar, whose politics till 2014 was limited to a few constituencies in Vidarbha and Marathwada, gained ground after he led the massive protest following the Bhima Koregaon violence.
Dalit writer and activist Arjun Dangle said, “Cutting across political outfits, Dalits rallied around Ambedkar post Bhima Koregaon. It helped the VBA to consolidate its vote share during the Lok Sabha polls. But the Assembly elections in the absence of any emotive plank will be a struggle.”
Yet, Dangle believes, “The VBA can play the vote spoiler for both the Congress-NCP and BJP-Shiv Sena.”
The opposition parties have dismissed the VBA as a B-team of the BJP. Both Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat and NCP’s Ajit Pawar had invited Ambedkar to be a part of the alliance.
Unfazed, Ambedkar said, “In the Lok Sabha polls, we polled 40 lakh votes (14 per cent). In the Assembly elections we will poll 70 lakh votes. It is achievable. Our candidates will affect the BJP more than Congress-NCP.” The VBA’s maximum impact will be in Western Maharshtra, he asserted.
The VBA is focusing on micro-politics. In every constituency, the local issues are being taken up to win public support. The AIMIM’s decision to stay away from the VBA was dismissed by Ambedkar as insignificant.
Personally, after facing defeat from Solapur and Akola Lok Sabha seats, Ambedkar ruled out contesting in the Assembly polls.