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  Metros   Mumbai  16 Oct 2019  Dalit votes not enough, alliance with BJP needed: RPI chief

Dalit votes not enough, alliance with BJP needed: RPI chief

Published : Oct 16, 2019, 1:53 am IST
Updated : Oct 16, 2019, 1:53 am IST

Ramdas Athawale doesn’t believe in confrontation, says one has to be pragmatic in alliance.

Ramdas Athawale
 Ramdas Athawale

Republican Party of India (RPI) chief Ramdas Athawale, who is a minister of state for social justice and empowerment in Modi Cabinet, said, “My politics is pragmatic and I do not believe in confrontation.”

In an exclusive interview with The Asian Age, the RPI chief spoke on a range of issues. Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:

Your prediction for the polls?
The grand alliance of BJP, Shiv Sena, RPI and other parties will win more than 250 seats in the state. The BJP and Sena had contested the last elections separately and they managed to win 122 and 63 seats respectively. As both parties are contesting the polls together I don’t see a reason why they can’t sweep the polls. The track record of the Devendra Fadnavis government in the last five years is excellent and there is a Modi wave in the state. Politicians, who have come from other parties, are also likely to increase the chances of the grand alliance’s victory.

You had demanded 10 seats for the RPI but had to settle for very few seats. Feeling hard done?
The party workers are obviously disappointed but we have to understand the ground reality. The BJP and Shiv Sena are bigger parties. Besides, many leaders from the Opposition parties have joined them recently. So they will ask for a bigger chunk of seats.

Do you think bigger parties are bullying smaller allies? Is the alliance hampering their growth?
Parties do not grow by solely fighting the elections. Even though we are contesting fewer seats, we have been promised a fair share of power. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has assured us a Cabinet and a state minister’s post in addition to two MLCs and three state corporation chief posts.

Your party faced the ignominy of asking its candidate to withdraw at the eleventh hour as Sena refused to abandon its claim on the Mankhurd-Shivaji Nagar seat. Your views?
Had the Sena given us 2-3 of their seats, we would have been able to contest 9-10 seats in the election. But I understand the Sena’s wrath as the party sought our support in the 2014 Vidhan Sabha polls, but we backed the BJP because I was elected to the Rajya Sabha from the BJP’s quota. But, I have very cordial relations with Uddhavji. I was the first who had responded to late Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray’s call to bring together Shivshakti and Bhimshakti.

Is there a need of a pressure group within the alliance for the smaller parties?
One leader had suggested that I take the initiative to form a group of smaller parties in the alliance. But it would have resulted in breaking the alliance. I do not believe in confrontation. You have to be pragmatic when in an alliance. We will not be able to get the power only with Dalit votes, so we have to be with the bigger parties. At present, there is no alternative to the BJP-Sena alliance. And to be fair, chief minister (Fadnavis) has always been forthcoming to our demands. He has given a fair share of power to all the allies.

Do you think contesting on BJP’s symbol will affect your party’s identity?
We had demanded the symbol of an ‘open book’ however, the EC granted us a ‘computer’ symbol and the party workers felt it won’t be possible to reach out to people with an entirely new symbol. Hence, we decided to contest on the lotus symbol. Despite this, the chief minister has promised that our MLAs would be considered as a separate group in his party.

With the emergence of Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), do you feel threatened? Will Dalit votes be divided?
Dalit votes have always been getting divided. This time, however, the division in votes will help the BJP-Sena-RPI Mahayuti as the VBA will cut Congress’ votes. But they will not get all the Dalit votes. We also have a large section of voters and a good cadre of party activists.

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