'The Congress wants to eat the cake, but does not want to share it.'
When All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi, MP, and Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh leader Prakash Ambedkar addressed a rally in Aurangabad on Gandhi Jayanti, it marked a milestone in contemporary Indian politics.
It was the first time a Dalit party has tied up with a Muslim outfit.
By itself the decision to ally may not seem significant, given that both parties don't have much of a footprint, but what is of import is the electoral catchment area that the two parties have the potential to tap into.
Dalits and Muslims jointly constitute around 40 percent of India's electorate, but somehow none of their leaders has ever been able to marshall the votes jointly and effectively.
In pre-Partition India, Muslim League leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah understood the power of this vote bank and quickly latched on to the idea of separate electorates when the British proposed it.
But the plan came a cropper when the more astute Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi convinced Dr B R Ambedkar that separate electorates were not the way forward and sealed the Poona Pact.
Then in the 1980s, Kanshi Ram realised the potential of Dalit votes and went on to form the Bahujan Samaj Party. It reached its zenith under his chosen successor Mayawati, a four time chief minister of India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh.
For Muslims, there has been no such leader who could speak for them, although Owaisi sees himself as the community's torch-bearer. For all his claims, the MP has been unable to spread his wings beyond Hyderabad and parts of Telangana.
Thus, for both Prakash, Dr Ambedkar's grandson, and Owaisi, an alliance could in theory help them scale heights together that neither is able to do alone.
If the gamble pays off, the Dalit-Muslim alliance could be a game-changer in Indian politics.
"Today, there are only two players on the chessboard: Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. You need somebody who can set up his own chessboard and play the chess game. That is what we are doing," Prakash Ambedkar tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.
In the midst of talk of a mahagatbandhan of Opposition parties to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, you have gone and formed your own alliance with the AIMIM. Why?
The AIMIM has come with us just now. For the last two months we have been travelling across Maharashtra under the banner of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi uniting Malis, Dangars, smaller OBCs along with Ambedkarite forces. We succeeded in that.
After that, we gave an offer to the Congress party stating that if we combine together we can defeat the BJP.
Now the situation in Maharashtra is such that the Congress has been losing 22 parliamentary seats in the last three Lok Sabha elections, in 2004, 2009 and 2014.
Therefore, out of these 22 seats, whichever seats they feel, a minimum of 12 seats must be shared with us.
The Congress is basically a Maratha party in Maharashtra and does not have OBCs and others in them.
Therefore, one of the discussions that took place in our party is that let us go with equity participation with them, but the Congress party did not give us.
On the contrary, they spread lies that we are asking for funds and more seats.
Your going with the AIMIM will benefit the BJP more, isn't it?
I am sorry, but that is not the ground reality. No media persons are willing to listen and to analyse.
The Dangar community voted for the BJP last time. They are 12 percent in Maharashtra. Now they are against the BJP.
So taking out 12 percent of that vote from the BJP, who will be the beneficiary? It is our party.
And these votes we are ready to share with the Congress, but the Congress is not interested. So we have no option but to go alone.
It is here where the AIMIM came into the picture and was ready to help us.
We said okay, but our offer with the Congress still stands. We are ready for an alliance.
We are not asking for seats, we are only saying that these 22 seats which the Congress lost in the last three parliamentary elections, we want 12 seats from that.
Out of 48 parliamentary seats, we are asking for only 12 seats from the Congress party.
What happens to the NCP (Nationalist Congress Party)? It is a partner of the Congress and out of 48 seats in Maharashtra, it contested 21 seats and 26 seats each in 2014.
The NCP is a BJP party. This was made very clear after Sharad Pawar made a statement on the Rafale deal (Pawar said the people believe Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi).
Only when there was hulla-gulla (an uproar) did he change his stance.
We are not like that. Moreover, the NCP is not a force in Maharashtra.
But Maratha voters are with the NCP.
Therefore, non-Marathas went with the BJP last time. Today, Marathas have taken out morchas against OBCs, scheduled castes and Adivasis.
It was with great difficulty that Justice P B Sawant, me and Justice Kolse Patil were able to bridge the gap (between the OBCs, scheduled castes and Adivasis).
We are now cementing the gap and therefore we wanted to form an alliance with the Congress party. We will wait for the Congress party till the withdrawal of nomination forms. We are not closing our doors immediately.
Even Mayawati has dumped the Congress in Madhya Pradesh.
You must put this as I am saying it. Why did the Congress ditch Chotubhai Vasava in Gujarat?
Secondly, why did the Congress not have an alliance with the CPI (Communist Party of India, CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist) in Karnataka and the Maitri group? They all are secular parties.
The Congress wants to eat the cake, but does not want to share it.
How will an alliance with the AIMIM benefit your party?
The AIMIM is a Muslim party and it is very important. There are many political Muslim parties. One organisation does not control (Muslim votes).
When the Muslim community sees that our force has become strong, then the AIMIM will play a role in it.
Jai Bhim Jai MIM is your slogan then?
That is not going to be the slogan. It will be Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi with MIM as the partner.
For the last 70 years Muslims and Dalits have remained economically most backward in India. Nothing has changed in their economic or social status.
Do you think this alliance will help in any way to change the situation?
The Congress may not have done anything for these communities, but the other aspect that needs to be looked into is that the Congress did not allow damage to Indian society.
They allowed things to happen by itself and everybody had a chance to come up on their own. '
Even if they did not do anything for Dalits and Muslims, that (inaction) did not antagonise the Congress politically.
The Congress kept the doors open for Dalits, Muslims and OBCs, but the BJP is closing the door to Muslims, Dalits and OBCs.
Therefore, I said in 2017 that if you have to take on the BJP, then let Ambedkarites be in the forefront to take them on. The Congress can take them on in the parliamentary elections.
I was very sure since then about the BJP gameplan to bring all political leaders under the scanner (investigation).
You must also enlighten the masses that these leaders are charged under what sections? Are they bailable or non-bailable?
If they are bailable, then the police does not intervene. And if they are non-bailable, then the police is supposed to set the law in motion.
They have to produce these political leaders before the court and then they have to apply for bail.
In how many cases was that done, so that data must be available to the common man as they must know why (the BJP) has not been able to apprehend Opposition leaders from the Congress party and even Mayawati.
Today, there are only two players on the chessboard: Narendra Modi and Amit Shah and they are moving the whole political scene.
You need somebody who can set up his own chessboard and play the chess game. That is what we are doing now.
You said the BJP's doors are closed for Dalits, Muslims and OBCs. Does it mean they have no future?
Of course, there is no future.
If the BJP comes back to power in 2019 with the same kind of majority, then they will change the Constitution.
One of the Supreme Court judgments said Parliament has the right to change the Constitution provided it can get through the parliamentary constituent assembly.
But that fear...
(Interrupts) Anybody who has read Hitler will find the situation is the same in India.
Hitler also rose through democracy, through (the German) parliament. He divided the Opposition, bought over leaders.
He corrupted them and charged them with corruption.
He made them dummies and puppets before the people.
He came back to power with a thumping majority and declared himself as the dictator.
In that case, Opposition unity is more important to resist.
Let me ask you a simple question: Will you want freedom or jail?
So you will surrender yourself.
Like I said earlier, all those who are charged with non-bailable cases are not being produced in court. Because they wanted freedom. When they got freedom they are behaving according to the way the BJP wants them to behave.
Blackmailing politics has taken over the country.
Do you think Dalits and Muslims can be a consolidated vote bank? There are different parties vying for the same votes leading to a split in votes?
It should not look like Dalits and Muslims. Our alliance basically is between OBCs and scheduled castes.
That is the first alliance of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi.
In that milk you can say of OBCs and Dalits, Muslims have added sugar. That is how I see it.
On October 28 we will be doing a rally in Nagpur. The main speakers are from the smaller OBCs. They are the vanguard of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi.
You are the face of this alliance.
I am the face because they do not have a face. They had one face in Gopinath Munde who passed away and there was a second face, Chhagan Bhujbal, but he is under the scanner and so he will not contest elections.
They have no other alternative, hence I have become the face.
This is the consolidated front of OBCs where the AIMIM has added sugar to it.
Will the Aghadi contest all the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra?
Yes, if the Congress does not want to come with us.
Will you want the NCP to be part of this alliance?
No, I don't want them.
In the last seven days, the news has come out that they want even the MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) to be a part of our alliance.
And the NCP considers itself a secular party!
In the last 45 years of my politics I have never ever aligned with the BJP or Shiv Sena.
I did an alliance with the Congress as the enemy's enemy is a friend.
Our fight with the BJP-RSS is an ideological fight. Political compulsions give you a chance for an political alliance, but where there is an ideological conflict, the BJP is against freedom and we want our freedom.
I am the only Dalit leader who has never shaken hands with the BJP, so when you say that our new alliance will help the BJP, then it is a rubbish query.