On Friday, a day after he finalising a seat-sharing deal with the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance for the Mumbai civic polls, Republican Party of India (RPI) chief Ramdas Athawale upped the ante over the issue of building a memorial for Dr B R Ambedkar at Indu mills in Dadar.
In a bid to score over the state Congress, which quickly got the Centre to approve the demand to hand over the entire 12.5 acres of land at Indu mills for the memorial, Athawale threatened that he would start an agitation if the land was not handed over by the Centre by January 26.
Athawale, who was an ally of the Congress-NCP for about two decades, is now using the Indu mills card to score over his former partners, as he has joined hands with the saffron combine.
Athawale hopes that the issue will help him connect with the dalit voters, who are reported to be in a dilemma after he joined hands with the saffron alliance in November 2011. Traditionally, the dalit voters do not support right-wing parties. Hence Athawale needs an emotional issue to woo his support base.
In a gathering of RPI followers at the Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar ground at Worli on Friday evening, Athawale asked the Congress at the Centre, to officially hand over the land for the memorial on or before January 26. Else, the RPI will gherao Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and protest on the streets, he announced. “The Congress party has made several false promises to us on several occasions. We want them to come clean on what they have promised,” Athawale said. The constitution, framed by Dr Ambedkar, came into effect on January 26, so the mill land should be officially handed over on the same day, he demanded.
The Indu mills land has been at the centre of a controversy as various Dalit outfits opposed the Centre's decision to hand over only four acres of the mill’s land for the memorial, asking for the entire 12.5 acres instead.