Politics makes for strange bedfellows, but the decision of former Sambhaji Brigade president Pravin Gaikwad, to join the Marxist Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), will certainly be considered among the strangest alliances seen before the civic polls. Sambhaji Brigade, an outfit active for almost 25 years, is known for its strong anti-Brahmin stance.
Gaikwad and senior PWP leader MLC Jayant Patil, however, defended the former’s decision to join the party, citing the “common heritage and ideology of the two movements”. Sambhaji Brigade has, over the years, become notorious for violence perpetrated by its members. In 2004, its workers had vandalised the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune over a book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, written by American scholar James Laine.
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Four youths, including two office-bearers of Sambhaji Brigade, recently vandalised a bust of Marathi playwright Ram Ganesh Gadkari at the Sambhaji Park in Pune. The organisation had claimed that in his 1918 play Raj Sanyas, Gadkari had portrayed Chhatrapati Sambhaji in a bad light.
After the recent movement by the Kranti Maratha Morcha in the state, when lakhs of members from the powerful Maratha community took to the streets to demand reservations, the Brigade had also announced its intention of joining politics.
Founded in 1947, the Marxist PWP currently enjoys some influence only in three districts. The party, founded by stalwarts such as Keshavrao Jedhe, Krantisinh Nana Patil and others, has two MLAs and one MLC in the state assembly. Ganpatrao Deshmukh, the oldest MLA in the state assembly, is a veteran leader of the PWP. Though it has limited influence, the party is well-known across the state.
In an event held at the historic Shaniwarawada in Pune, Gaikwad, along with some other former members of the Sambhaji Brigade, joined the PWP in the presence of senior party leaders. While speaking at the occasion, both Gaikwad and leaders of the PWP stressed on the “historic similarities between the two organisations”. They claimed that the “common ideology” was based on the teachings of social thinkers like Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Chhatrapati Shahu Ji Maharaj and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.
Gaikwad said the “so-called ideological differences” between the Brigade and the PWP were “creations of the English media”. “PWP is a party based on the teachings of Phule, Shahu and Ambedkar… and we have worked on those lines since day one,” he said. However, Gaikwad said class-based politics, the hallmark of leftist parties, would not be a success, given the “ironhold the caste system has over Indian society”.
Incidentally, on December 23 last year, Sambhaji Brigade had announced that it had registered as a political party and would field candidates for the forthcoming civic polls. Gaikwad said he and many other senior leaders of the Brigade had wanted the movement to remain apolitical, but the “headstrong attitude” of some of the younger members had led to the decision to form a political party. “Most of the Sambhaji Brigade members are with us,” he claimed.
“We have been in talks with them since last year or so, and we decided to join only after we were convinced of their ideological strength. The final talks were held at the historic Panhalgad,” said Gaikwad.
Patil and Gaikwad said while they would field candidates for the civic polls, their maiden foray would be a cautious one.
Responding to the development, Santosh Shinde, a senior leader of the Sambhaji Brigade in Pune, said, “Those who have joined the PWP will always have our best wishes. Though Sambhaji Brigade is only around a month old as a political party, we have been active in social issues since the last 25 years and we have a strong base among the people.
We will fight the elections in PMC, PCMC and Pune Zilla Parishad with all possible strength.”
On the effect of this unusual alliance, political commentator Abhay Deshpande said the PWP would give Gaikwad a platform to launch his political party across the state.
“Gaikwad is a good organiser and he will prove to be a valuable asset for the PWP, whose influence at this moment is limited to only certain pockets of the state,” he said. Chandrakant Bhujbal, another analyst, said the new alliance would dent the strong Maratha votebank in city areas to some extent.