Dr Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghari is hoping to emerge as the third force in the Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra this time. The tie up with Asaduddin Owaisi-led MIM has revived attempts at a Dalit-Muslim alliance which could be a spoiler in the key battleground state. Sagarika Ghose interviewed Prakash Ambedkar in Nagpur.
Q: The allegation is that you have tied up with Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM’s in Maharashtra to cut Congress-NCP votes and benefit the BJP?
No, our alliance is designed to cut into BJP-RSS votes. Looking at it from a caste point of view, the Maratha Morcha broke away from other social groups by its antagonisms to Dalit and OBC reservations and opposition to the SC ST Atrocity Act. (This a reference to widespread Maratha protests in 2017-18, against Dalit accused in the gangrape of a Maratha woman in Ahmadnagar and a Maratha demand for abolition of the SC ST Act on grounds that Dalits are not being punished for crimes. Marathas also began street protests demanding reservation.) Marathas form the main backbone of support to Congress and NCP as well as for the BJP. Today the Marathas are isolated. The OBCs have been antagonised. The Vanchit Bahujan Aghari is a peoples movement of dalits, smaller BCs, OBCs and SCs. The Congress NCP has no stand in Maharashtra in 2019. There is a Congress-NCP-BJP match fixing. We are the main opposition as our alliance is an attempt to cobble together smaller BCs, OBCs and SCs, which are about 50-55 % of the total population.
Q: Is it true that you were keen for an alliance with the Congress?
In this election, the Congress seems to be blackmailed by the BJP not to fight against the BJP, look at the way they are missing out on alliance opportunities everywhere. The family is under enquiry, the top leadership seems under pressure to ensure there is no joint opposition against the BJP.
Q: Do attempts at Dalit-Muslim unity work anymore? Many years ago a similar experiment was tried with Dalits and Haji Mastan, named Dalit Muslim Suraksha Mahasangh
I had nothing to do with that. That was a committee started by Prof. Jogendra Kawade. That did not work out because neither side was committed to it, it was more a political alliance not a social alliance. The Vanchit Bahujan Aghari is not a Dalit-Muslim alliance, it is an alliance of small OBCs and SCs which Owaisi and his followers, not all Muslims, have joined. It is a new force in Maharashtra politics.. We both have a specific agenda, I will be looking after the vanchit class, he is looking after the Muslim class but we both have a national view, which is why its not a communal agenda but a national and constitutional agenda . It is a social alliance with a political aim. Our slogan is KG to PG should be the responsibility of the government. We are fighting family oriented politics of both BJP and NCP-Congress. It’s a fight for people vs family.
Q: Why did you form this alliance?
There are two sections of society who across the country is most against the BJP and these are the Dalits and Muslims. Dalits and Muslims across Maharashtra and India will vote strategically to defeat the BJP. I have advised leaders not to spend funds on MBCs or SCs or STs as they have already made up their minds. That’s because of the nanga naach of pure discrimination and cruel physical attacks, whether in Gujarat or in Maharashtra. Resistance to manuwad is very strong today.
Q: Hasn’t the Dalit movement splintered in Maharashtra?
It is a peoples movement not a party movement or led by a single party. At the moment this peoples movement is one of the biggest in India. Smaller OBCs have become active by joining Dalit fronts, it is a new phase of a socio-economic movement which has the capacity to change the national scenario. The thing lacking in the Dalit movement is an articulation of issues on the national scene, there’s certainly a vacuum of leadership, leaders are not willing to listen to intellectuals. Many Dalit scholars have gone into a shell because some of them supported BJP or Congress and they don’t have a face to show now after the violence on Dalits by manuwad forces.
Read more on Dalit Issues: ` Sagarika Ghose