Nagpur: This is precisely what Ramdas Athawale, the ‘highest ranking’ Dalit leader of Maharashtra is doing right now – forgetting history at his own, and his people’s peril. Currently he is Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment in the Modi Government. And also a member of Rajya Sabha.
Ironically, the Minister for ‘Empowerment’ is not feeling quite powerful right now, despite his cabinet ranking. This very position seems to have clipped his wings.
The aftermath of the recent Bhima Koregaon riots saw an almost sudden ascendance of Prakash Ambedkar as the tallest Dalit leader. His call for a Maharashtra bandh had seen Mumbai shut down almost completely, a feat that only Balasaheb Thakarey had achieved so far. All TV channels rushed to him for sound bytes and exclusive interviews after that. Athawale must have felt the tremors, even ensconced in his cabinet chair and his Lutyen’s bungalow in New Delhi. He at once rushed to claim that the bandh was successful because his followers had participated in it and supported it. Did they really have any choice?
If one Prakash Ambedkar was not enough, Athawale finds another challenger in the young ‘upstart’ from Gujarat Jignesh Mewani.
Not only did this Dalit Activist, as he still calls himself, win handsomely in his maiden attempt at fighting elections, he did so inspite of BJP fielding its might against him. Modi, Amit Shah and UP Chief Minister Adityanath were all seen campaigning against him.
In the aftermath of Bhima Koregaon blame for the disturbance was sought to be pinned on him, quoting his speech in Shaniwar Wada in Pune. A section of the media has gone tongs and hammers against him, making it their nightly affair to spew venom on him.
They do not seem to understand that this is what is propelling him from strength to strength. Barely an MLA for a month, and he has the temerity to ‘boycott’ the mighty Arnab and his channel Republic!
As journalist Geeta Seshu writes in News Minute (about Mewani’s boycott of Republic)
“It is important to note that these attempts by these activists to change the rules of engagement with the media do not come from a position of power. None of them hold any institutional positions of power. They cannot claim any ‘rightful’ access to state-owned media or even to privately owned, corporate, big mainstream media, apart from their considerable presence on social media platforms.
Nevertheless, due to their work, they are influential and do generate public opinion. They are confident that they can continue to do so without the oxygen of media publicity, minus the toxicity. They have a right to choose the media they wish to interact with.”
Can Athawale seriously not see a young version of himself in Mewani?
He bagan his political outing as a Brigand of the Dalit Panther – an almost militant youth wing of Republic party. He had demanded that Dalit youth be allowed to carry fire arms legally to protect themselves and their people!
From this start, to be ‘elevated’ to a place where your position of power makes you entreat people to “forget Bhima Koregaon and fight for unity of all castes” seems rather like a fall than a promotion, Mr. Athawale.
On the one hand you say that you will not tolerate anyone trying to over throw the constitution and then you also say the constitution should be amended to give reservations to economically backward among higher castes ? Whose leader are you exactly??
This is the real tragedy of Dalits of India today. Their so called trend setters, people they could look up to -not just politically but socially and educationally also – have benefited immensely from Reservations as guaranteed to them in our Constitution. They get educated, they rise in bureaucracy and Government jobs, in Govt. itself – and then that very position makes them forget their roots. They do not remember who their real constituents are, whose empowerment they should be fighting for.
Ramdas Athawale is a prime example of this ‘class’.
They forget the advise of their Babasaheb, their tallest leader who is revered almost as much as Gautam Buddha by his followers – “Be Educated, Be Organised and Be Agitated”.
—Sunita Mudaliar, Executive Editor