Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi president Prakash Ambedkar, who has dared political parties to scrap “political reservation” in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha constituencies for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, tells Shubhangi Khapre why reservations have outlived their utility and those getting elected on these reserved seats have become “slaves” of mainstream political parties.
You have opposed reservation of Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha constituencies for SC/STs?
The political parties use such reservation to make elected SC/ST candidates their slaves. The reservation is being used as a convenient tool by mainstream political parties to fragment the Dalits and tribal people. Candidates elected from these communities have no independent voice in their respective parties nor in the governments. They become puppets in the hands of their political masters who exploit them to their advantage in elections.
Dr B R Ambedkar, your grandfather, had strongly advocated SC/ST reservation.
Unfortunately, the country has not understood Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. He had envisaged reservation for SC/STs in Lok Sabha and state Assembly constituencies for just 10 years. The objective was to bring the Dalits and tribal people into the electoral process and help them exercise their democratic rights. But he had clearly indicated that it should not be more than a period of 10 years.
Let us understand that there is a clear distinction between political quota and reservation in government jobs and education, which he wanted to continue.
I am only questioning political reservations in Lok Sabha and state Assembly constituencies. Reservation for the SC/STs in government services and education is necessary and must continue.
What about political empowerment?
Look at the last 70 years’ politics. What has changed at the grassroots? The atrocities and discrimination continue, in fact, it has increased.
The ugly ‘forward versus backward’ [caste] battle has taken deeper roots despite higher literacy and economic growth. By getting 131 candidates — 84 from SC and 47 from ST— to the Lok Sabha, political parties co-opt them into their ideology. These candidates have no power to influence decision-making. It has served no purpose.
Instead, of surrendering to handful seats even if 15 per cent Dalits and tribal people unite as one voice, they can keep almost every party on tenterhooks… (and) push the agenda for their rights.
Union Minister for Social Justice Ramdas Athawale has opposed the scrapping of reserved constituencies.
It is his personal opinion. I am looking at the larger picture of Dalits, tribals and Other Backward Castes (OBCs). Moreover, whether it is Union Minister for Food and Civil Supplies Ramvilas Paswan or Athawale, they should both answer if they are being heard in the government. Even if we presume a senior and powerful leader like Paswan may be asserting in the Cabinet, but are the top leaders listening or implementing what he wants for Dalits or tribal people?
Regular hearing for Maratha reservation begins in the Supreme Court from Monday. How will it impact caste politics in Maharashtra?
The polarization between Marathas and OBCs will sharpen. The process has already begun. The smaller backward communities are clamouring for new political identity. They want to assert themselves in the mainstream. Therefore, the visible change is that the backward class is ready to give up its individuality and seek the OBC-tag. Till now, there was a clear categorisation of Mallis, Dhangars, Khunbis etc. But now OBCs are emerging as a powerful banner bringing the community together.
What are their (OBCs) apprehensions?
The OBCs primary concern is to safeguard their 27 per cent quota. The Supreme Court verdict on the Maratha reservation will be crucial. We will not allow Maratha quota to impact OBCs in any way.
Moreover, OBC Census is another critical issue before the Centre. In absence of the Census, how does the planning commission allocate welfare funds?
From August we are launching a state-wide outreach programme across the rural belt to consolidate all deprived smaller backward communities under the OBC banner. The economic setback to OBCs due to Covid-19 lockdown is not even discussed nor reflected in any financial package of the Centre or the state. But they are among the worst-hit due to the lockdown.
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