Post his big switchto the saffron combine, RPI ( A) leader Ramdas Athawales political TRPs are at an all- time high. The talk of the town in political circles, all parties are watching his every move. Now called the real angry young manof Maharashtra politics, the fiery Dalit leader, also known for his colourful shirts, speaks his mind on a range of issues, from Sharad Pawar to Mayawati; his decision to switch, future plans and life on Facebook.
Excerpts: Q. What forced you take this decision? Do you think this new alliance will make a state- wide impact? A. I took this bold decision after a lot of thought. The Congress- NCP took us for a ride in spite of working for them for two decades. Workers at the grassroots level were very upset and felt left out. After much deliberation, I decided that the time had come. This is not just a political but a social alliance too.
Two of Maharashtras biggest political forces have come together against the government.
Its impact will be felt far and wide.
Q. But isnt there an ideological clash here? Arent you again piggybacking on someone? A. Absolutely not. Every party has its own identity and agenda but still they come together for a cause and co- exist. Just because we have an alliance doesnt mean we will lose our identity, the RPI will stay. In spite of the foreign origin issue, the NCP is with the Congress so whats wrong with me going with the saffron combine.
This new combination is being tested to find new social and economical possibilities to uplift the Dalits who have remained in the penumbra of powerless existence, ditched by vote bank politics of the Congress and the NCP. Q. Have you struck a deal with the Sena- BJP? They say you will get a Rajya Sabha seat if you swipe the ATMcard? A. I have set aside my personal ambitions. I couldve become an MP long back if I wanted to. In fact, Sharad Pawar offered me Supriya Sules Rajya Sabha seat after my defeat in the Lok Sabha election from Shirdi which I refused. I wouldve even become a minister at the Centre but then I wouldve ditched my own people. The only deal Ive struck is for the betterment of the Dalits.
Q. So have you distanced yourself from your onetime mentor Sharad Pawar? Or are you his Trojan horse? A. Im not Pawars man anymore but yes, I have a lot of respect for him. He made me a Cabinet minister in 1991. I was a student leading the militant Dalit Panther. He gave me political reckoning. I represented the Lok Sabha for three terms. RPI leaders were made ministers in the State Cabinet. In 1992- 93, the Mumbai Mayor was a Dalit, all because of Pawarsaheb.
He has done what he could but even he has limitations. I have made a choice to walk away but our friendship will continue. All the talk about being his implant in the Sena- BJP is rubbish.
Q. People say that other Dalit factions are not with you? Are you planning to woo them to your side? A. Why are people worried about who is with us and who is not? Ive tried to bring other leaders into the alliance but they havent responded. Now, Im not wasting my time trying to woo leaders. I will concentrate on bringing our people together for a common cause and I know people will understand the significance of my political move and stand by me. Not all Dalits are with us but there are enough to take the government down.
Q. Mayawati was in Mumbai recently and inaugurated the BSPs office. Do you feel she will make a dent in your Dalit votes? A. The BSP too is a cadrebased party but its presence in Maharashtra is limited.
The Uttar Pradesh formula will not work in Maharashtra.
Here, the RPI ( A) has its own identity and our voters will not drift to anybody.
Q. You have become active on Facebook recently, what prompted this sudden online appearance? A. Even the RPI is changing with the times. Youngsters in the party advised me to sign up so I did. Im still learning the art but I guess it will help me connect with todays youth. If other leaders can do it