Despite demands by the community leaders, both the Congress and the BJP-led alliances in the state have not offered tickets to the Dhangar community, which accounts for around nine per cent of the population in the state.
Currently categorised among the Vimukt Jati and Nomadic Tribes, Dhangars are located mostly in western Maharashtra and Marathwada. In the 2014 polls, the community had consolidated behind the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the state, which saw the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine lose several strongholds in western Maharashtra and Marathwada.
The BJP, which had then promised to give reservation to the community under Scheduled Tribe category, had taken up the issue in its first Cabinet meet after Devendra Fadnavis formed government in the state. However, with the ruling party yet to deliver on its promise, there has been a lot of “resentment” among the Dhangars.
Now, in yet another setback, all the main political formations in the state have “ignored” the community while distributing tickets. Click here for more election news
“There is a lot of unrest within the community. There is a feeling that the four established parties — BJP, Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP — have deliberately kept us out from becoming a part of the political- and decision-making process,” Navnath Padalkar, convenor of the Dhangar Arakshan Kruti Samiti (DAKS), said. The Samiti has been fighting for the mainstreaming of the community.
“These parties have shown, yet again, that politics in the state is dominated by chosen established political families, defeating the whole idea behind representative democracy,” he said.
Former Nationalist Congress Party legislator Prakash Shendage, who recently stepped down as the party’s vice-president citing his community’s marginalisation, echoed Padalkar. “The families controlling the levers of powers in these parties want to serve their own interests. They do not want opportunities to percolate down to marginalised sections. All of them have betrayed the Dhangars and similar disadvantaged communities,” Shendage said.
He pointed out that since the formation of the state, not a single Dhangar community had been sent to parliament.
Meanwhile, sensing the community’s unrest against the major parties, Prakash Ambedkar’s Bahujan Vanchit Aghadi (BVA) has fielded seven candidates belonging to the community this time.
Besides Padalkar, a founder member of the BVA, who is contesting on the party’s ticket from Baramati, the VBA has nominated members from the Dhangar community on Madha (advocate Vijay More), Osmanabad (Arjun Salgar), Nanded (Dr Yashpal Bhinge), Thane (Mallikarjun Pujari) and Mumbai North-East (Niharika Khondale) seats.
While Shendage, too, had shown interest to contest on a VBA ticket from Sangli, on Monday he withdrew from the race to support the candidature of Gopichand Padalkar, another Dhangar.
“We want to send at least one MP from the community to the Lok Sabha this time. We need to create our own political space to press for the community’s needs,” Shendage said.
A shift in the Dhangar vote away from the BJP combine is likely to hit it hard. But the main opposition alliance might just not benefit from it, said senior political sources.