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Why Maharashtra bandh is a turning point in Dalit politics

Last updated on: January 05, 2018 17:56 IST

'The Dalits have always asserted themselves, but there has never been any gain for Dalits.'
'But now the most significant thing that has emerged, and which has got all the political parties in denial mode, is the assertion of smaller OBCs along with the Dalits.'
'I accept that the Dalits by themselves are not in a position to make a Mumbai bandh successful.'
'It was only because of the participation of the smaller OBCs that the bandh has become a success.'


IMAGE: A scene from the January 3 bandh in Mumbai. Photograph: Sahil Salvi

Prakash Yashwant Ambedkar, founder of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh -- and, more importantly, Dr B R Ambedkar's grandson -- minces no words as he takes on the Maharashtra government.

Ambedkar tells Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore about the RSS concerns about the January 1 attack on Dalits in Bhima Koregaon and how he hopes to create a coalition of forces to offer an alternative to the BJP and Congress.

 

What has the Dalit movement achieved from the Maharashtra bandh you called on January 3?

This bandh was supported not just by the Dalits who were attacked during the January 1 celebrations at Bhima Koregaon. A large number of smaller OBCs (other backward classes) too joined in the bandh and that is the reason why it was so successful.

Till now we knew only dominant OBCs in Maharashtra like Dhangars (the shepherd community) and Wanjaris (nomads) etc, but you don't get to hear about the other not so dominant OBCs like Kumbhars (potters), Shimpis (tailors), Lohars (blacksmiths), Sonars (goldsmiths) etc.

These smaller OBCs participated in large numbers in the bandh.

These people (the not so dominant OBCs) were protesting against the attacks on those who were on their way to celebrate the bravery of soldiers who had fought and died valiantly fighting the socially oppressive Peshwas in Pune some 200 years ago.

In that army (which fought the Peshwas), there were soldiers belonging to these OBC castes too.

The 500-odd army was made up of 400 Mahars and Matangs and the rest belonged to the OBCs and the Kunbi caste.

This bandh has exposed the hypocrisy of the forward castes and fundamentalist, Brahminical, Hindu organisations.

Why were those celebrating their history with pride attacked? What was their fault?

Has the honouring of bravery and martial expertise of those belonging to the Dalit community pinched Brahminical Hindus the most?

Another important achievement is that organisations like the RSS -- which vouches for the Hindu culture and ethos -- have also called for punishment for the people who attacked the Dalits on January 1 near Bhima Koregaon.

But Chief Minister Fadnavis, who is also Maharashtra's home minister, is yet to take action against Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, who you have alleged are the behind these attacks on the Dalits.

The chief minister has assured us that he is going to take action (against Bhide and Ekbote).

There has been no action three days after the attacks.

We will wait for another day or two and then we will formulate our action if the CM doesn't act against these people.

We will chalk out a detailed plan if these two (Bhide and Ekbote) are not arrested.

Organisations like the RSS, which had once stood behind them (the fringe outfits), have come out openly, saying that these people should be arrested and action taken against them.

The RSS, which is an intelligent organisation, will know the consequences of not speaking against such people.

Secondly, their own existence is in question now.

Whose existence?

The RSS' existence!

Why?

You must read between the lines as to why they (the RSS) made these statements.

This is the first time ever that the RSS has come out with such a statement.

And you think this is a very significant change in how the RSS is dealing with fringe elements?

I find it very significant because this statement makes one believe that the RSS wants to get these fringe elements under control.

Do you think the coming together of the Dalits and smaller OBC groups to commemorate the Bhima Koregaon battle can lead to the formation of a rainbow coalition that can acquire political strength across India?
A case in point being that Dalits in Madhya Pradesh are protesting against the January 1 attacks and demanding action against the guilty.

I am in Bhopal and getting reports of Dalit protests in Indore and Bhopal. It is only natural for the Dalits and other oppressed castes across India to protest against such atrocities.

I have already indicated that I would be interested in bringing together an alternative to the Congress and BJP.

Let me tell you that with the RSS statement galle ki haddi kehte hai na jisko (these fringe outfits are like a bone for the RSS).

With the RSS going ahead with the Hindutva agenda and its implementation being carried out by the BJP, the nation will be scrutinising it thoroughly in 2019. The voters can always accept or reject it.

So, there is a self-imposed limit to the Hindutva agenda; they can't go beyond a point.

Now, these fringe organisations are like Frankenstein's (monster) and the BJP wants to get rid of them, but the people will always doubt its intentions.

With the Congress taking up the temple card and the BJP and RSS sticking to their Hindutva card, it will be difficult for the latter to get rid of this bone in their throats.

Union Minister Ramdas Athawale's Republican Party of India (a party founded incidentally by Prakash Ambedkar's grandfather) has lashed out against you for inciting Dalits for political gain.

Who bothers (about Ramdas Athawale's RPI)?

You have seen what I control and what I can do.

I have never exercised my rights, but when I did it (by calling a Maharashtra bandh), people now know what my strength is.

I just don't bother about these people (Athawale).

Don't you think Dalits in Maharashtra are politically fragmented? There are more than 10 Dalit political outfits that vie for votes.

That's your version. I have been in politics for 35 years and whenever Dalits wanted to change the politics of Maharashtra, they have done it.

Do you view the Maharashtra bandh as a significant marker of Dalit assertion in the state?

The Dalits have always asserted themselves, but there has never been any gain for Dalits.

But now the most significant thing that has emerged, and which has got all the political parties in denial mode, is the assertion of smaller OBCs along with the Dalits.

I accept that the Dalits by themselves are not in a position to make a Mumbai bandh successful. It was only because of the participation of the smaller OBCs that the bandh has become a success.

Will it make the Dalits politically powerful in Maharashtra?

Even today, in Kolhapur, there are organisations that have called a bandh against the government's inaction against those who attacked the Dalits on January 1 and these are not Dalit organisations.

2017 was marked by scores of Maratha mook morchas (silent protests). Do you think the January 1, 2018 attacks on the Dalits will galvanise the Dalits to stage similar protests to assert themselves?

The (Maratha) mook morchas were politically favourable for the BJP. Those protests antagonised other dominant OBCs and Dalits, so it was a win-win situation for the BJP.

Now, with this January 3 Maharashtra bandh, that win-win situation will favour any other party but the BJP.

The BJP can again get into a win-win situation only with their (Bhide's and Ekbote's) arrests.

If the BJP government doesn't arrest them, these protests and heartburn will continue.

The Dalits and not so dominant OBCs will then form a political bloc against this government for their inaction.

If they (the BJP government in Maharashtra) want to prevent such polarisation from happening, they will have to act.

Prasanna D Zore / Rediff.com