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Thursday, Aug 22, 2019

Lok Sabha polls 2019: This may be NCP’s last election, says Maharashtra Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar

Dalit leader and founder of Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) Prakash Ambedkar has threatened to become the third alternative in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. If his Vanchit Aghadi front contests the polls separately, it could potentially cut into the vote bank of the Opposition [Congress-NCP].

mumbai Updated: Feb 25, 2019 07:51 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Prakash Ambedkar is holding his cards close to his chest by not yet closing the doors to the Congress.
Prakash Ambedkar is holding his cards close to his chest by not yet closing the doors to the Congress.(PTI/File Photo)
         

Dalit leader and founder of the Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) Prakash Ambedkar has threatened to become the third alternative in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. If his Vanchit Aghadi front contests the polls separately, it could potentially cut into the vote bank of the Opposition [Congress-NCP].

But he is also holding his cards close to his chest by not yet closing the doors to the Congress. Ambedkar spoke to HT on a range of issues, including his alliance with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), why OBCs are siding with him and why the NCP may face the backlash of this consolidation.

Excerpts from the interview:

The overall analysis is that the Vanchit Aghadi launched by you will cut into the Opposition’s vote bank and help the BJP.

Yes, it will divide the votes of the Opposition, but also of the BJP. There is no space for the marginalised in the existing parties. We are representing OBCs, Dalits, Muslims and all marginalised sections of society, who have been rejected by both the alliances. The politics offered by the Congress and more so the NCP in Maharashtra is that of promoting leading Maratha families. The OBCs will no longer accept this. There is a state-wide consolidation of OBCs against both these main alliances and they will back us.

What is the reason behind this consolidation of OBCs in the state?

The Bhima-Koregaon violence instigated this consolidation as not just Dalits, but several smaller castes within the OBCs were also part of the march on January 1. The role of Hindutva groups in targeting them has angered them. But, also the state’s role in granting Marathas 16% reservation, but ignoring Dhangars, for instance, has led to this consolidation. Dhangars were used by the BJP in 2014 and by the Congress-NCP before that. They are with us today, as are nomadic tribes, OBC castes including the Malis. Dalits are of course with us

You are aligning with Asaduddin Owaisi, who is seen as a polarising figure. Isn’t he one of the hurdles for the grand alliance as the Congress is not keen on him?

Owaisi speaks fiercely for the Muslims, but always within the parameters of our Constitution. After a long time, the community has a leader who is not irrational or talking the language of appeasement, but the language of rights. The Congress is not comfortable with this. In any case, AIMIM is not going to contest the LS polls, so the Congress is using Owaisi as an excuse to not give us seats. He is just a ‘ploy’.

If AIMIM will not contest polls, why should Muslims vote for you?

The AIMIM will not contest the general polls, but they will contest the Assembly polls. They are committed to siding with the marginalised class that is asserting itself. Muslims share a common cause with the marginalised sections and hence will support us.

So, is a tie-up with Congress still possible?

Yes, it is. Our disagreement with Congress is not based solely on seats. If Congress comes around to our agenda, alliance is possible. They need to drop soft Hindutva and make their stance on RSS clear.

But do you have a problem with the NCP?

The OBCs will not accept the politics of NCP any more. This could be the NCP’s last general election. In Western Maharashtra, Dhangars for instance are significant in numbers and they are not going to support NCP. I had asked the Congress to drop NCP and take us as the main ally, but they refused. For some reason, the Congress top brass is taken in by the NCP. The NCP is leading the alliance talks and not the Congress.

Do you see the Pulwama attack and the ensuing narrative on patriotism or ‘nationalism’ colouring the polls?

There is an attempt to build that narrative, but it will not succeed. Already questions about intelligence failure are being asked of the government. And there is a subtext about whether this is being used for political gains.

Post elections, with whom will you ally?

No preference. We will definitely not go with the BJP, but otherwise we are open.

First Published: Feb 25, 2019 05:56 IST

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