Elections 2019: Will Prakash Ambedkar's lab fail him again?
Alliance of Prakash Ambedkar's party and AIMIM may get strong support from Dalits, Muslims and OBCs, who felt ignored by the two major alliances
At a courtesy meeting in a hotel, Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar told his opponent from Congress in Solapur, Sushilkumar Shinde, that he wanted to show the latter's boss his (Prakash) political strength. He was referring to his decision to contest all 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Prakash, the grandson of B R Ambedkar, is chief of Bahujan Vanchit Aghadi (VBA) - an alliance of his party Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh and Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM.
Prakash's fate will be sealed on April 18, in Solapur and Akola - home to his social engineering lab where he conducted successful experiments that he wants to replicate on a larger scale. He has contested elections in Akola for over 30 years but managed a victory only twice, with the Congress's support. However, AIMIM's support in Akola, where Congress has fielded its only Muslim candidate - Hidayat Patel - in the state, has boosted Prakash's prospects.
Prakash was expected to join the anti-BJP forces for the ongoing general elections, however, his unreasonable conditions for seat-sharing with Congress did not materialise. VBA is now in the fray against UPA and NDA. It might get strong support from the Dalit, Muslim and OBC voters, who felt ignored by the two major alliances.
Small to mass scale
Prakash has experimented successfully with the combination of bahujans (OBCs) and Dalits in Akola where he succeeded initially, but now has just one MLA. His party, however, has been in power in the Akola Zilla Parishad for 20 years. The 2019 poll has provided Prakash a larger canvas to expand the ambit of his social engineering experiment. Meanwhile, the general feeling is that Prakash has decided to concentrate on Solapur as his entry here has intensified the contest. His wife Anjali is holding fort in Akola.
In his appeal to voters, Prakash has said only VBA could do justice to the people. "Neither Congress nor BJP allowed deprived people to stand up as a dominant political class. A small section of people have ruled the country for 70 years," he said.
Several OBC leaders working for Prakash told mid-day their candidate stood a better chance because of his good rapport with non-Dalits. But his opponents in Akola think otherwise. The BJP is confident of sending Sanjay Dhotre to Parliament for the fourth consecutive term, while Congress's Patel said he was up against Dhotre, not Prakash. In 2014, Dhotre had won by 2.5 lakh votes, while Patel finished second and Prakash third. But in 2009, Prakash had given Dhotre a tough run, losing the poll by just 8% shortfall.
Social activist and author Purushottam Aware Patil said, "Prakash's main objective is to plug the gap of the 2009 elections. The difference of votes between him and the Cong candidate in 2014 was much less. The hard-core RSS believers in the BJP are upset because they didn't want Dhotre as a candidate this time. So, I expect a good swing in favour of Prakash," he said.
A close aide of Prakash said the Lok Sabha election planning has been done in view of the ticket aspirants for zilla parishad (ZP) polls. "We have more OBC members in the ZP and Prakash has asked them to ensure maximum polling in their booths to secure their tickets for ZP polls. The strategy should work in our favour," he said, adding that the ZP polls were slated to be held in next four months.
Still advantage BJP?
Political observer from Akola Anil Gawande has predicted a 2014-like result, but with a variation. "Dhotre will win, no doubt, but it would be interesting to see who finishes second," he said. He said the voters were not as enthused as the last polls and that Dhotre's victory margin would reduce significantly.
The editor of Lokmat (Akola edition), Ravi Tale, said the caste and religious combination would again favour BJP. "The Congress and NCP alliance has worked the Muslim community very hard in the past week. They have been to all Muslim pockets in the segment and seem to have convinced the community to vote for Patel. The polarisation is complete and it would benefit Dhotre as usual," he said.
Tale said Prakash's decision to contest from Solapur meant he wasn't sure of winning in Akola. "I think he filed nomination in Akola because he didn't want to upset his dedicated cadre here. He is more hopeful in Solapur," he added.
Meanwhile, political observer Gawande said the wedding season may prove a dampener on the polling day. "April 18 is a big wedding muhurat. I fear a low turnout," he said.
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