To avoid flak, I’m talking with Congress for alliance: Prakash Ambedkar

What is your reaction to the mass desertion of leaders from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)? Is it a failure of Sharad Pawar’s leadership?

I do not think leaders are deserting Sharad Pawar. I feel that it is Pawar who is sending his leaders to BJP as there are number of cases against them. And to avoid prosecution, he has advised them to join BJP. This move will also save Pawar's skin.

That means you want to say that he is doing this to save his nephew and senior NCP leader, Ajit Pawar?

Ajit Pawar's case is sub judice. As the court is already seized of the matter, I will not speak on this issue.

What’ll be the fate of VBA candidates who contested for LS elections?

The candidates who contested Lok Sabha poll from VBA are not much interested in contesting assembly poll. They are not typically politicians. They contested just to send a message smaller castes in society need proper representation.

These candidates will now focus on assembly seats falling under the LS constituencies they contested. We will field fresh candidates for assembly poll.

What is your prediction about the performance of VBA in the forthcoming assembly elections?

Voters now want a candidate who will get the developmental work done. We conducted a survey and based on Lok Sabha election figures, our primary expectations are that we will win 40 seats in the assembly elections.

You are talking about social engineering. There are Maratha leaders who are interested to join VBA. Is there any place for the Maratha community?

Yes. I am very much open to Maratha leaders. Many leaders have approached us and I have a good rapport with the Maratha community. For the last 15 years, I have a strong connection with Sambhaji Brigade, a strong organisation of Maratha youth.

I have good acceptability in the Maratha community. Their leaders approach me and show an interest to contest elections. They are active one-and-half month before the elections.

But when the time comes to file the nomination, they retreat. “Saheb, leave us this time. We will contest the next time”, is their typical request which I am witnessing in the last 15 years.

They don’t have the courage to fight the established and powerful Maratha leaders in their constituencies. I will not blame them solely.

They are helpless as these powerful leaders have almost controlled the Maratha community. They are scared to openly challenge the established Maratha leaders.

What is the status of your talks with Congress? Have you set any deadline for the Congress and NCP?

We have requested Congress to clarify if they consider VBA as a “B team” of BJP or not? If yes, what are the proofs they have. We have not yet received any clarifications from them.

We will declare the first list of 22 candidates mainly from micro- other backward class communities. These candidates will be smaller and marginalised castes in OBCs like Kumbhar (potter), Lohar (blacksmith) or Kaikadi.

We are trying to give representation to these communities that never got a political representation. We will announce the first list in August-end. After that, it will be almost difficult to withdraw the candidates. Thus, we will wait till August-end to finalise the seat-sharing understanding.

You are criticising the Congress and then why are you extending a hand for alliance? Are you really positive about an alliance with Congress and NCP?

9 We did not extend a hand for the alliance. It is Congress that sent us the letter and requested for an alliance. We are demanding proofs for their accusation against us.

During the Lok Sabha elections, Congress offered to BJP-Sena that they will damage VBA in exchange for not filing charge sheets against them. Congress and NCP are helping the BJP to protect their leaders.

They first offered us 40 assembly seats, then we offered them 40. Their strategy is that they want to engage us in seat adjustment talks and want to damage us by showing that we are not going to ally with them.

As half of the Congress leaders are facing various allegations, they want to damage us just to help the BJP. They did this during the Lok Sabha elections and got support from the government.

We are talking with the Congress just for the sake of people. I am not much interested in having an alliance with Congress. Even we in VBA have not discussed about the seat-sharing with Congress- NCP. We want to show the people that the Congress is not actually interested in an alliance.

MIM demanded 100 seats. What is the status of VBA’s alliance with MIM?

We want MIM with us. They should demand the seats based on their strength. They should not demand impractical things.

The micro OBCs are very less in population. How will this ensure your victory in the assembly election?

Yes. The population of micro OBCs or Special Backward class or VJNT castes are just up to 5 to 6 lakh each. But their population becomes large when we compare it at a village level.

It becomes sizeable when compared at an assembly level. The leaders from these communities despite having the calibre are apprehensive on contesting elections. We are now encouraging them.

But OBCs have already shifted to BJP. How can you bring them back?

OBC votes went to Modi and not BJP, as Modi was projected as a leader from the OBC community. If he is an OBC or not I don’t know. But OBCs in the country thought if an OBC is becoming the PM, we should vote for Modi.

The OBCs voted for an OBC PM. But an assembly election is different from an LS one. People are more concerned about their own community’s representation in the assembly. Now, we are trying to knit them into a network for VBA. I am confident OBCs, SBCs or VJNTs will vote for VBA.

How do you rate the BJP government's, in the state and Centre, performance regarding OBC welfare?

Fadnavis government has done nothing for the welfare of the OBC community. They totally ignored OBCs. There was an agitation on in the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).

The students were opposing the steep fee hike, which compelled them not to continue their education in TISS. There is no guarantee of getting a scholarship from the government meant for OBC students, and 15 per cent of the reserved seats for OBC remained vacant.

The state is witnessing a drought condition since the last three years. But the government failed to help drought-affected people. The BJP government claims that it is a government of Hindus. But the fact is that they are totally neglecting the Hindu OBCs.

You have earlier supported the demand for a separate Vidarbha state. What will be your stand in the forthcoming assembly elections?

Vidarbha is not my first priority. My first priority is political recognition of “vanchit” or disadvantaged community. To give the power in the hands of “vanchit” community is my first priority.

The Maratha reservation case is now in the Supreme Court. What is your stand on this?

In 1972, when the first generation of Dalit passed out from educational institutions, they were agitating for reservations. Then the Dalits were being targeted and humiliated by Marathas for demanding reservation.

But I am supporting Maratha quota as I feel development cannot be possible without government support. The limit of 50 per cent was fixed by the Supreme Court and not by the Constitution. Thus, it is up to SC if they want to relax the limit or not.

You have filed cases against the LS 2019 results and put a serious question mark on EVMs. But in our country, court cases drag for decades. Then what is the use of such a fight. The judgement will not come till the next LS election?

If we can control EVMs, then results will be different. We will force the courts to announce judgements in a year. We are aware that the courts cannot announce their judgements in the next two months.

We will wait for a year. If we do not get judgements, then we will do Gandhigiri against the courts. We will sit on dharna in front of courts.

You are suggesting that the reports of all six intelligence agencies on the Lok Sabha results and actual results are different. Is this a fact?

There are six intelligence agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau and local crime bureaus. The results predicted by them and the actual results are different.

These agencies were disturbed that there is some non-agency player that can hack the whole system. Thus, they leaked their reports about probable results before the election results were announced. These reports were leaked to many TV media houses but nobody showed or published them.

There is a talk that EVM hacking is being done from Russia. What information do you have?

I don't have a concrete information. But a small news was published immediately after the LS results about a Rs 65,000 cr agreement with Russia signed before the LS election. It means the Modi Govt was so confident of return. Where did this confidence come from?

If you feel EVMs are hacked for the victory of BJP, then why are you contesting the assembly election?

You have to digest what you eat. Otherwise you will vomit. To prove EVMs are non- tamperable, BJP allowed the opposition Congress to win elections in three states. In these same states, BJP did a clean sweep in the LS election. How can people change minds to this extent in six months.

If you want to defeat EVMs, you should all vote for Vanchit, or voters aligned to all parties or neutral voters should vote to a single party that is VBA. This will help to stop the hacking. Machines cannot be hacked 100%. They can hack up to 25%.

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