Rattled by its ally of 20 years, Ramdas Athavale, the best-known Dalit face in Maharashtra politics, crossing over into the Shiv Sena-BJP camp, the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party has gone into damage control mode. The NCP has taken up a long-standing Dalit demand that Dadar station be renamed ‘Chaitya Bhoomi’ in memory of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Ambedkar was cremated near the sea at Dadar.
The move to rename the station is being seen as an attempt to attract Dalit votes in the forthcoming municipal elections. The NCP, which has planned a convention on Rights of Backward Classes on June 10, will present the proposal during the
meeting. Public works minister and senior NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal said, “A demand for the renaming has been made and it will be considered at our foundation day conference.”
The Congress, too, has lent its support to the move with state party president Manikrao Thakre pledging his support to the renaming plan. “We fully support the move to rename the station. We will put forth our demand to the chief minister,” Thakre said.
Ambedkar was cremated on December 6, 1956, at the seafront near Dadar. Ever since, the area has been referred to as Chaitya Bhoomi (land of temples). Thousands of Dalits converge at the spot every year to pay homage to Dr Ambedkar.
Dalits represent nearly 15% of the electoral vote in the state and will play an important role in the forthcoming corporation elections to be held in Mumbai, Thane and Nashik.
“The Congress-NCP have always used Dalits for their own benefit. It is strange they have woken up now to ask for Dadar station to be renamed,” RPI leader Ramdas Athavale said.
Defending his party against Raj Thackeray’s criticism that the move was politically motivated, Bhujbal said, “As a party and part of the government, we have carried out various welfare schemes for Dalits. It may not be part of the social orientation of Uddhav and Raj, but the NCP has always supported the cause of Dalits and backward classes.”
However, sources in the NCP admitted that the station renaming move was a bid to checkmate Athavale who had first made this demand during the regime of the saffron combine in Maharashtra.
The Sena-BJP government had rejected the demand at the time.
“We just want to show that Athavale is a hypocrite. There cannot be an RPI-Sena alliance except for political gain because there is such a huge chasm in their ideologies. Sena will never accept this demand,” said a senior NCP party functionary.