Prakash Ambedkar, Asad Owaisi announce alliance in Maharashtra to unify Dalit-Bahujan-Muslim votes

By Daisy Katta,

In a move that has the potential to play a major role in Maharashtra politics, Adv. Prakash Ambedkar of BHARIP (Bharatiya Republican Party Bahujan Mahasangh) under the banner of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi announced an alliance with AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen). A show-of-strength rally was organised today in Aurangabad, which was preceded by a similar rally in Solapur on September 29. BHARIP party members including Rekha Thakur were present in the rally which was attended by more than one lakh people.

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Asaduddin Owaisi took to the stage to call for all Bahujans and minorities to come together. “The Modi Government has deprived Dalits and Bahujans. In the time of the BJP, the worst injustices have been done with the Bahujans. To end this injustice, we all need to stand behind Prakash Ambedkar”.

With an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Prakash Ambedkar had announced on June 27, 2018, that his party would form an alliance with the progressive parties and will contest elections under the banner of ‘Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi’ (Deprived Bahujan Alliance).

It is important to note that post-Bhima Koregaon incident at the beginning of the year and the subsequent debate around it, Prakash Ambedkar has strengthened his position in Maharashtra. Currently, the Maharashtra political scenario has been engulfed with many key issues like Maratha Reservation, the potential dilution of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, Bhima Koregaon atrocity amongst others. In the run-up to the 2019 elections, these might be the key issues.

The alliance is also crucial for AIMIM. Currently, apart from its core base in Telangana, the party has made its electoral presence felt in states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh etc. The party also announced its entry into state elections by winning two state assembly seats in the 2014 elections, namely Byculla and Aurangabad Central. It had managed to put up quite a fight in Marathwada region which was part of the erstwhile Hyderabad princely state and forms the party’s major base and additionally fared well in Mumbai, northern Maharashtra (Malegaon) in the civic body elections. It received some jolt in its electoral foray into the state in the 2017 civic body polls where it was not able to maintain the gains of 2012 elections in places like Nanded. Traditionally, in the Maharashtra political scenario, the Congress and BJP have relied on the Dalit and Muslim votes. The Dalit votes would get polarised because they would vote Prakash Ambedkar and the Muslim votes would get polarized because they voted for Owaisi. But this alliance has already created a stir amongst the major parties as the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi aims to bring together the smaller OBC groups including Muslims into the forefront.

Speaking to TCN, journalist and activist Jaywant Hire, who was a key member of Ramabai Nagar Hatyakand Sangharsh Samiti said, “The OBCs have traditionally been Hindutva supporters, but the kind of crowd we are seeing at the rally will have a huge effect not only on the Congress and NCP but also on the BJP and the Shiv Sena. The kind of crowd we saw at the rally makes me feel that they will be able to pull in the OBCs. The stand taken by the Shiv Sena and the BJP over the Maratha reservation has upset the OBC voters and therefore such voters could move to BHARIP.

Regarding the rising influence of Ambedkar, Hire further added, “After the Bhima Koregaon issue, Dalits from other parties like BJP, NCP came together with Prakash Ambedkar. The Bandh which was called on 3rd January…even Dalits from other parties were frustrated and when Ambedkar called for the Bandh everyone came out in support”.

Mumbai-based writer and poet Vaibhav Chhaya said, “ There is a 9% vote share of Buddhist Dalits in Maharashtra and post Bhima Koregaon, this vote share is banking on Prakash Ambedkar. If you take any city in Maharashtra, be it Nagpur, Pune, Mumbai, you will see that the Dalit settlements are next to the Muslim settlements, so the votes which used to get divided will come together. This is going to affect not only the BJP but also the Congress equally. It’s the first time that the Schedule Caste,  and notified tribes and Muslims have come together as a strong Third Front”. The rally also saw the participation of people from nomadic tribal communities like Wanjari and Dhangar who have traditionally been a BJP vote bank.

Speaking on the Maratha reservation, he added, “In Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, there is no Maratha voter as such…but there will be one big change that the liberal Muslims who have been Congress voters might vote for Prakash Ambedkar. About Bhima Koregaon, he further added, “I don’t think Prakash Ambedkar has a problem with Congress as such…it is Sharad Pawar, his role in backing Sambhaji Bhide and his inaction regarding Bhima Koregaon that he has a problem with.”

After Solapur and Aurangabad, it remains to be seen if similar support is witnessed in the Sena stronghold of Mumbai.