Athawale skips RPI protest, supporters follow suit

When a leader sets the example, his supporters follow suit — and so it was with RPI party workers yesterday, who gave the agitation called by their party a miss, contributing to its grand failure. Perhaps they were just taking the cue from their party President Ramdas Athawale, who himself was conspicuously missing in action from the protest. Athawale’s party had declared the agitation to renew their quest to stake claim to the 12-acre Indu Mills plot, in order to erect a monument of Ambedkar.

No strength in these numbers: Policemen seemed to outnumber RPI supporters at different protest spots yesterday. Pics/Sameer Markande, Sayed Sameer Abedi

But it appeared that most party workers had chosen not to respond to the call, as there was a dismal turnout at all protest spots. Even the seat of protest — the Indu mill compound in Dadar — wore a deserted look. Athawale led by example, having left town for a seminar. Party members revealed that he isn’t expected to return before June 17. Arjun Dangle, the party’s senior-most leader in the state after Athawale, however, insisted that the agitation wasn’t a flop show.

“We managed to stop trains in Borivli and Bhandup – our workers courted arrests, and we were able to convey our point,” said Dangle.
He insisted that the absence of their leader hadn’t affected the footfall much. “Our leader has left for a Buddhist seminar, and his trip had been planned earlier. It is not true that the event wasn’t a success because of his absence,” said Dangle. The main aim of the party’s leader was to shut down the Mantralaya, but the absent party workers made sure that nothing of the sort happened.

Meanwhile, RPI’s allies — BJP and the Shiv Sena — steered clear of the agitation. A senior leader from the saffron party said, “It was a protest called by the RPI – neither did they ask for our support nor were we consulted about the protest.” Another reason why both the saffron parties dissociated themselves from the protest was the recent bandh called by them on May 31. “So many bandhs won’t go down well with the public. We may lose their support if we wage protests every week,” said a leader, on condition of anonymity.

While the party workers claimed that their peaceful protest had been a glorious success and enjoyed turnouts in hundreds all over the city, the ground reality suggested something far different. While the turnout at the five-minute long Mulund rasta roko was not more than 30, a handful of about 10 supporters showed up at the Bhandup rail roko, which didn’t even last five minutes. RPF personnel detained the protestors at the station and released them later. 31 protestors were detained by the Mulund cops.

Cops had been deployed at Chembur, which is considered an RPI stronghold. Buses were few and far between, but no violence was reported. Residents were heard wondering aloud why cops were patrolling the streets.

— With inputs from Naveen Nair and Anuradha Varanasi¬†

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