Too much ideological inconsistency is politically damaging
The coming together of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in the state has put several noses out of joint, not the least that of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA). The VBA blazed like a meteor weeks ahead of the Lok Sabha elections last summer and has sadly plunged as fast as a falling star soon after the regime change in the state.
The Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) were desperately seeking an electoral alliance with the Prakash Ambedkar-led VBA during the parliamentary elections, but Ambedkar, like Oliver Twist, was always wanting more — in this instance 22 of the 48 seats in the state, which neither party was likely to concede. Soon it became apparent that all that he was interested in was cutting into the Congress-NCP vote bank which, in turn, led to allegations that he was aiding the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). His demand for the Assembly election too was fantastic — he wanted 144 of the 288 seats and demanded that the NCP be the junior partner to the VBA.
But, according to some Congressmen, that was a historical blunder on his part because the mood of the non-upper caste voters then was in favour of VBA and the party, given the way the vote swung against the BJP, could have won a substantial number of the 60-70 seats the Congress-NCP was willing to offer.
“For a time there, the Congress was in danger of being edged out by the VBA, and an AAP-like situation could have developed in the state,” says another Congress leader. “But he overplayed his hand given that he thought even the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) was unfit for an equal alliance.”
While the AIMIM did win an odd seat or two in the Assembly elections, the VBA won not a single seat; and now, in view of the MVA government, Ambedkar has had to face the ignominy of almost half his executives and at least 45 leaders quitting the party within just two days citing no future in continuing with the party. That is an even greater exodus than the Congress and NCP had faced at their nadir just before the October polls.
One of these leaders who quit recently told me, “Ambedkar gets away with everything he does, however unreasonable because people revere his name. But he has failed to live up to that illustrious name. If we had indulged in that kind of self-centred fickleness, we would have gotten beaten up by our own community. We gave him a long rope but we did not want to hang ourselves with it.”
Dalit leaders are upset not just by Ambedkar’s fruitless political/electoral ambitions but also by his ideological inconsistency. He seems to be bitterly opposed to upper caste saffronism and yet, during elections, makes moves that seem to end up favouring those very forces. In view of the fact that the VBA did not win even one seat in either the Lok Sabha or Assembly but contributed to the loss of the Congress-NCP in both elections, those quitting the party now seem to be veering back towards the ruling alliance in the state who, they hope, will accommodate their interests more substantially than Ambedkar.
Whatever the internal conflicts within the VBA, it is sad that Ambedkar’s ambition should get the better of his political judgment. The only time he ever won a seat in the Lok Sabha was when Sharad Pawar, in the undivided Congress, worked hard to persuade upper caste voters in 1998 to vote for Dalits from three open general constituencies. But those were less polarised times. Now Dalit leaders have realised the futility of electorally enabling parties that might not have their best interests at heart and decided to return to the old order of things.
Strangely, a similar exodus is becoming visible from Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) towards the MVA. Once again, MNS workers are disappointed by the frequent change of positions by their leader that leaves them looking like neither fish nor fowl on the political arena. On opposite sides of the spectrum, both leaders are having to pay the price of self-centred ideological inconsistencies. Flexibility might be a commendable thing in politics, but too much of an ideological inconsistency renders culture shocks to the system that people are unable to absorb.