“We have been betrayed,” is how Mahadev Jankar, who is seen as one of the most recognised Dhangar leaders, summed up his community’s experience with the BJP.
In spite of this perceived betrayal, Jankar, who is a minister in the present BJP-led government, said that his party, the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha, would stand by the BJP.
In the 2014 assembly elections, the Dhangars had voted for a party that they believed would deliver the promise of giving Schedule Tribe (ST) reservation for the community. Five years later, the promise has not been kept. While leaders like Jankar are hitching their wagon to the BJP, it’s not clear whether the community would support the BJP en masse.
In the run-up to the 2014 state elections, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, the then state BJP president, had assured the Dhangars that his party would take up their demand in the first cabinet meeting if it was voted to power. While it did not happen, the government had in 2015 entrusted the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) with the task of ascertaining whether the Dhangars qualified for inclusion under the ST category. While TISS submitted its report in 2018, the government has given it to the Advocate General for advice and further action as inclusion of any community in the ST category can be done by the Union government after recommendation by the state government.
Dhangars, who constitute about 9 per cent of the state’s population, are currently listed in the state under the category of Nomadic Tribes (C) and avail 3.5 per cent reservation in education and jobs in Maharashtra. The community has sizeable presence in western Maharashtra and Marathwada and parts of Vidarbha regions and plays a crucial role in close to 50 Assembly seats.
Sensing the growing anger among the community, the government renamed Solapur University after Punyashlok Ahilyadevi Holkar and then extended 22 ST schemes worth Rs 1,000 crore to pacify the community.
Raja Kandalkar, senior journalist from the community, said that the lack of awareness among the community and political immaturity in Dhangar leaders had led to the BJP sidelining the issue. “Most of the prominent Dhangar leaders have been absorbed by the BJP, who are keeping quiet on the reservation issue,” said Kandalkar.
Apart from BJP minister Ram Shinde, Jankar was made minister and Vikas Mahatme, another Dhangar leader, has been made Rajya Sabha MP by BJP.
“Shiv Sena denied ticket to only Dhangar legislator Narayan Patil but there was no hue and cry from the community. Instead, another Dhangar leader Prakash Shendage allied with Shiv Sena few days ago. Gopichand Padalkar, who has a base in Khanapur, joined the BJP to contest from Baramati. All this shows that the leaders lack maturity in politics,” explained Kandalkar.
On Monday, Jankar alleged that BJP has cheated him in seat-sharing. “BJP had agreed to give us two seats that we were to fight on our symbol. But, it gave their B forms to our candidates to fight polls on lotus symbol. So, we have expelled our candidates from Daund in Pune and Jintur in Parbhani. Now, our only candidate is in Gangakhed in Parbhani and we want the Sena and BJP to support us in that and withdraw the nomination of Sena candidate,” added Jankar.
While most of the leaders of the community have been co-opted by the ruling party, there is still angst amongst the population over the delay in granting of reservation. Whether this angst will have a bearing on how the community votes is, however, yet to be seen.
“During the Lok Sabha polls, the community had voted for Dhangar candidates, mostly fielded by Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, and for BJP at other places. Now, the same thing is likely to happen in assembly polls. The community might vote for Dhangar candidates wherever possible and for BJP at other places,” said a community leader.
-Dhangars constitute 9 per cent of Maharashtra’s population
-Currently listed in state under Nomadic Tribes category
-Avail 3.5 per cent reservation in education and jobs
-Has sizeable presence in western Maharashtra, Marathwada and parts of Vidarbha
-Play crucial role in close to 50 assembly seats
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