The meeting between BJP president Nitin Gadkari and Republican Party of India (RPI) leader Ramdas Athawale, where they mooted the idea of a united opposition front against the ruling Congress-NCP coalition in , has raised eyebrows in state political circles.
Athawale met Gadkari to discuss the proposal of "issue based" unity among the opposition parties. Dalits comprise a significant 28% of Maharashtra's electorate.
The May 6 meeting has raised the hackles of the Congress, which once had alliance with Athawale, considered the most influential Dalit leader in the state. The ruling party was quick to question Athawale's secular credentials.
MPCC spokesperson Anant Gadgil sought to know whether Athawale is ready to accept the philosophy of Gowalkar Guruji, (Madhavrao Sadashivrao Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghachalak of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).
With the high-profile elections to BrihamMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) barely nine months away, the significance of Athawale's maiden entry into BJP office for the meeting was highlighted by the saffron party sources.
Approaching the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance is just another opportunistic move by Athawale, aimed at keeping NCP-Congress at bay in the Mumbai civic body polls, his detractors said.
"The RPI was with NCP for the last 12 years. But since last Assembly elections they distanced themselves from us. Also, for their existence they have to join hands with the Sena-BJP. In view of the BMC polls, he has united with the saffron alliance," State NCP spokesperson Madan Bafna said.
Dalits are aware of the contribution made by Congress for their welfare, Gadgil said. Dalits will always be with Congress as the party has been their "protector", he added.
The Dalit leader has taken this step out of frustration, political analyst and senior journalist Dinkar Raikar said.
"RPI is a divided house. Most Dalit leaders are not together. This is one way of getting into limelight (for Athawale)," Raikar said.
"A Sena-BJP-Dalit alliance has a chance to wrest control over BMC. This is an opportunistic move on Athawale's part. The Sena-BJP were not getting Dalit votes, but with Athawale joining them, they will now get these votes," he maintained.
BJP's ally Shiv Sena has been for years talking about coming together of `Shiv Shakti and Bhim Shakti' to take on the Congress-NCP alliance, which is ruling the state since 1999.