Dalit leader Ramdas Athavale and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Gopinath Munde will share the dais at Ghatkopar’s Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar, 14 years after the Dalit colony had turned against Munde and the saffron combine following the deaths of 11 Dalits in police firing here.
Athavale, who heads the Republican Party of India (RPI), and Munde, will come together on February 10, to commemorate the 17th anniversary of the renaming of Marathwada University after Dalit icon Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, which falls on January 14.
On July 7, 1997, after 11 people were killed in the police firing at Ramabai Nagar, Athavale, like most Dalit leaders, demanded the scalp of Munde, who was the home minister then.
Munde had supported the police’s theory that they had to fire to prevent a rioting mob from torching an oil tanker. Munde’s stand turned Dalits against him.
The community voted against the Shiv Sena-BJP combine in the 1999 Assembly elections.
Athavale’s move to join hands with the saffron parties 14 years later signals his growing frustration with the ruling alliance and his party workers’ dissatisfaction with being left out of the power equation in the state.
None of the prominent Dalit leaders got elected to Parliament in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Athavale lost from his constituency, Shirdi, and blamed the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party for it.
“Athavale is doing this for political survival by sending a signal to the Congress-NCP that he has other choices. The Sena and BJP are playing politics of opportunism,” political analyst Surendra Jondhale said. He added that in the last two elections, Dalits have shown that they are making their own electoral choices and clearly not backing parties like Athawale’s RPI as a mass.
Dr Pradip Jawale, who has lived in Ramabai Nagar for 40 years, said: “There is lot of anger among people here after he met Thackeray and this political stunt of getting Munde is not going to win him any brownie points. Dalits don’t vote for the RPI as a united group any more. The electorate is fractured.”
“The locals themselves decided to call Munde because he had participated in the movement for renaming Marathwada University and even went to jail for it,” Athavale said.
“He is being called not as a BJP leader but as a politician and backward classes leader who supported Dalits then.”
He admitted that political equations were changing.
“Sena chief Bal Thackeray has given us a proposal to unite Bhim Shakti and Shiv Shakti,” he said. “We have not taken any decision but there is sense of disenchantment with Congress and NCP among party workers."