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Exclusive: RPI needs bigger share in state politics, seat sharing, says Ramdas Athawale

Updated on: 12 June,2024 07:05 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Prajakta Kasale |

In exclusive interview, returning minister Ramdas Athawale talks Dalits, Assembly polls and more

Exclusive: RPI needs bigger share in state politics, seat sharing, says Ramdas Athawale

Ramdas Athawale with Dy CM Devendra Fadnavis. File pic

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Exclusive: RPI needs bigger share in state politics, seat sharing, says Ramdas Athawale

Ramdas Athawale, president of the Republican Party of India (RPI), once again retained his ministry under the new NDA government, even though his party didn’t contest a single seat in Maharashtra in the recent Lok Sabha election. No matter who forms the government, Athawale—the minister of state for social justice and empowerment—always finds a prominent space in state and national politics. After being sworn in on Sunday, he spoke with mid-day about his ministry, his plans for the Dalit community and how he sees the upcoming Vidhan Sabha election in the state.

Excerpts from the interview…

You have been handling the current ministry for a long time. Did you insist on getting it again?
It has been eight years and although I got an opportunity to work for my people, I needed a change. I conveyed that it would be good if I got to work for another ministry but once again I got the same one. Whichever the ministry, I will work for my people. I even insisted on the Cabinet ministry. But as the government formed with the support of many parties and the ministries were allotted depending upon the number of MPs, I have to accept the formula applicable to all. Besides, being an MoS (minister of state) of the country is also a big thing.

How are you going to improve the status of Dalits?
In the very first Cabinet meeting, decisions like allotting homes to the poor and depositing Rs 20,000 in farmers’ accounts were taken. We have also suggested to the state government that the fund allocation has to be increased for various initiatives and schemes for Dalits, like the Mahatma Phule Backward Class Development Corporation and the Anna Bhau Sathe loan scheme. We also suggested waiving off loans of Dalits as it was done for farmers. The total loan amount is around Rs 1,000 crore and it will help our people as most of them can’t repay it. The most important we want is for people to stay in their villages and not come to cities to live in slums or on footpaths. But for that, they must have a fixed source of income at the village level. We suggested allotting 5 acre of land to each family either through the government or like the Bhoodan Movement of Vinoba Bhave where people can donate excess land. It will be an income source for Dalit families and they will come above the poverty line.

What is your analysis of the current Lok Sabha result?
The results were not as expected. There were shortcomings in dealing with misleading allegations like people being intimidated by talks of the NDA changing the Constitution.

Do you think people didn’t vote for NDA due to such allegations?
Yes, it is among the major reasons. There was a deliberate attempt to spread the misconception that NDA would change the Constitution once they got two-third seats. Now we have to deal with it systematically so that it won't affect us in the next election.

What is the plan?
PM Modi paid respect to the Constitution of India by touching the book to his forehead before he was elected as a leader of the NDA's parliamentary party. He also ordered November 26 to be observed as Constitution Day. The Modi government also completed most of the work of the Babasahed Ambedkar Memorial which had been stuck during the earlier government. Most importantly, Modi assured that his government is not going to change the Constitution. So we have to get people to know about all this.

Your party didn’t contest for Lok sabha. What is your plan for Vidhan Sabha?
If they allowed me to contest for the Shirdi seat as per my suggestion, then we would have got Shirdi as well as Ahmednagar seats (where Sujay Vikhe Patil of BJP lost to Nilesh Lanke of NCP- SP). But they lost both. Mahayuti benefited in many places due to the votes of RPI and they know it. We suggested that we should get seven to eight seats for contest in the upcoming Vidhan Sabha polls. Besides, I also consulted with Devendra Fadnavis-ji at my bungalow in Delhi about RPI needing a ministry in the current cabinet expansion. If the Mahayuti needs votes from the Dalit community in the Assembly election then RPI has to get more importance in the state government as well as in seat sharing. Fadnavis has assured me that he would take the matter seriously and ensure these demands are met.

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