Smaller parties give the Congress a big headache
NCP and it might not approve of Prakash Ambedkars consortium of small parties conditions for seat-sharing
Putting up a formidable anti-BJP front together in the Lok Sabha elections seems to be a mirage for the Congress all across India, and in Maharashtra, where it is in a pre-poll alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Smaller parties are proving to be a bigger obstacle in the effort to avoid splitting of votes in the 48 constituencies that provide the much-needed space to increase the UPA's overall tally. At this point of time, a prominent Dalit face, Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Dr B R Ambedkar, could be a game-changer of sorts. Ambedkar's consortium of smaller parties – Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (a front of neglected masses), that includes his Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM, some splinter RPI groups and local fronts – has put forth conditions that Congress and NCP may not approve of as a seat-sharing formula.
Ambedkar has posed some embarrassing questions to the Congress, calling it a soft Hindutva party. With no promises made and no answers given to Vanchit Aghadi, the alliance seems unlikely. NCP boss Sharad Pawar and state Congress president Ashok Chavan have been doing their best to get Ambedkar in the fold, but negotiations have failed because of his 'unreasonable' demands. The UPA's other prospective partner, Raju Shetti of Shetkari Sanghtana, wants more in addition to the one seat he has been holding. Hitendra Thakur's Bahujan Vikas Aghadi may go solo in Palghar. The left parties are expected to get a seat in north Maharashtra, but they want at least one more.
Much drama has taken place in making the people believe that the Congress, NCP and Ambedkar must get into the extended alliance. It's because of the upsurge in the Dalit leader's popularity, a massive response to the rallies he and Owaisi have addressed together. The rising acceptance of Ambedkar's leadership among both Muslims and other backward classes that don't vote for the Congress just because they oppose the BJP, is yet another plus point. Ambedkar's partnership with Owaisi has brought the Dalits, Muslims, and to some extent OBCs, in certain parts of the state together. Greater Mumbai and parts of Thane district, Aurangabad, Akola, Nanded, Buldhana and many other constituencies are decided by the Muslims, Dalits and other marginalised communities. They have a refrain against the ruling classes - Congress and now BJP. The factionalism in the Republican Party of India (RPI) has changed the Ambedkarite-Dalit movement in a power tussle between the opportunist leaders. BJP's ally and RPI leader Ramdas Athawale has benefitted most, finding favour with successive Congress and BJP governments. The incumbency has cost Athawale a great deal of political ground. He is now begging the BJP for a Lok Sabha seat for himself.
Firebrand Ambedkar's resolve and aggression rekindled memories of previous Dalit movements – the no-holds-barred attitude that didn't fear consequences in adopting a militant approach if needed to prove its point. Ambedkar told a news channel the other day that he did no wrong in telling his supporters to beat up BJP workers who trolled him and his Aghadi leaders. "Democracy has its limits," he said unabashedly, when told that he had acted against democratic values.
'Congress a soft Hindutva party'
The Congress combine and Ambedkar chose traditional letter exchange. Responding to the request for joining UPA, Ambedkar articulated an oft-made demand that the Congress leadership in Delhi must make an announcement to bring the RSS under a constitutional framework and share a legal draft with him if they wanted to him to be part of the UPA. He has questioned Congress' secular credentials, the point that Owaisi too raises in his arguments, asking it to shed the soft Hindutva that has become party's 'subtle' hallmark under Rahul Gandhi. "I think you will keep us guessing till last day of nomination and ensure our elimination from the electoral contest by not taking any decision," Ambedkar wrote, even as prominent civil society members have requested him to strengthen the UPA to achieve the common goal of removing Narendra Modi.
There many reasons that stop Ambedkar from being part of the Congress mahagathbandhan. He hasn't accepted the Congress' demand for breaking away from Owaisi's party, which is accused of helping the militia of the Nizams who had refused to make Hyderabad province part of independent India. He has asked the Congress to explain to him its association with the Muslim League which was instrumental in dividing India (in 1947). He says how could Congress get along with NCP that had supported the Devendra Fadnavis government unconditionally from outside in 2014?
Ambedkar's negotiators asked for 22 seats in Maharashtra. Too much to ask, said the Congress, adding that they may part with maximum four. But Ambedkar won't settle for less than 12. A dozen seats and the burden of Ambedkar's ideological, logical and illogical demands seems too much for the Congress to shoulder as the election is just a month away.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to email@example.com
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