Mumbai: Mumbai with an urban population of 22 million is by far the largest city of India. And the 4th largest in the world.
Stopping Mumbai in its tracks and enforcing an almost complete ‘Bandh’ on just one day’s notice was a feat that only Bal Keshav Thackeray (Balasaheb Thackeray), founder of Shiv Sena, had managed so far.
Another man has done it now, on 3rd January 2018, Mumbai remained closed. Children were not sent to school, busy executives chose to ‘work from home’, shops and malls remained closed and even busy locals could not run. The positive response to the bandh call was underlined when the iconic ‘dabbawallahs’ of Mumbai, elected to not ply their services that day voluntarily.
Quite possible some took the decision to remain closed or not venture out of their homes out of fear rather than favour, but then Mumbai does not scare so easily.
A man from Vidarbha but with a famous name
The man who could emulate Balasaheb Thakarey’s hold over Mumbai is not even a Mumbaikar! He is from Vidarbha: from the town of Akola.
But he has a famous name, he is grandson of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Prakash Yashwant Ambedkar.
(By the way Dr. Ambedkar began his education in Mumbai, called Bombay then, where he moved at the age of 6. He was the first ‘untouchable’ to study in Elphinstone school and later Elphinstone college of the Bombay University from where he did his graduation in Economics and Political Science. He then studied in USA and UK and ultimately obtained 5 Doctorates and also became a Barrister. In 1918, he became Professor of Political Economy in the Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai. Although he was successful with the students, other professors objected to his sharing a drinking-water jug with them. )
Prakash Ambedkar’s poliical journey
Prakash, is a lawyer like his grand father and has had a stint in politics, being a Member of both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha at different times. He has been member of different Committees, like Communication, Food and Railways, but never belonged to a Ruling coalition or become a Minister. He is not even from the Republican Party of India anymore , a party formed by Dr. Ambedkar and which split into 50 factions after his demise.
No, Prakash Ambedkar has his own political outfit called Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh and he refused to merge it with the 50 factions of RPI when they decided to ‘re unite’ in 2009 – before soon splitting again in two groups. So disillusioned did he become with Dalit politics and politicians that he wrote a book titled Ambedkari Chalval Sampli Ahe, meaning: the Ambedkar movement is over.
Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh does not consist of just dalits and followers of Babasaheb, but has OBCs too in its cadre. Through many years he has been networking with non-Congress and non-BJP forces across the country and aligning with the left, socialists and democratic outfits.
Was one of the speakers at Shaniwarwada at Dalit Elgar
It is his personal integrity and an image of not being power hungry that has catapulted him into a central position of Dalit leadership today after the Bhima Koregaon incident.
He was one of the speakers at the dalit meet in Shaniwarwada of Pune called called ‘Elgaar Parishad’ which was inaugurated in Pune by Radikha Vemula, mother of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula, whose suicide at University of Hyderabad in January 2016 had stirred a nationwide uproar.
The speakers at the event were Jignesh Mevani, Dalit activist-leader and newly elected MLA in Gujarat; Chhattisgarh tribal rights activist Soni Sori; Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Umar Khalid; Prashant Dontha of Ambedkar Students’ Association, Hyderabad; Vinay Ratan Singh, national president of the Bhim Army; Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of B R Ambedkar; and Maulana Abdul Hamid Azhari, national secretary of All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB).
The event was presided over by retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice P B Sawant.
After the dalit unrest began on 2nd Jan – after dalits going to Koregaon Bhim were allegedly stoned and attacked and they then retaliated – Mevani and Khalid were immediately accused of making speeches that incited crowd violence. (FIRs have been registered against them). But no one fingered Prakash Ambedkar though he was one of the speakers too.
Was it a question of being at the right place at the right time?
As Indian Express writes ‘ The Bhima Koregaon incident leading to the bandh in Maharashtra on Wednesday has given a new lease of political life to Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) president Prakash Yashwant Ambedkar. At 63, he appears to have emerged as the rallying point for the faction-ridden Dalits across Maharashtra.’
As soon as proceedings turned violent and out of control and CM Fadnavis was quick to order a Judicial inquiry Ambedkar was equally quick in rejecting it.
“The judicial inquiry ordered by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is not acceptable to us. The government should request to the chief justice of Bombay High Court to appoint sitting judge to probe this incident. The judge should have the powers to collect the evidence and to punish the culprits. The inquiry should be conducted by a non-Dalit judge,” said Prakash Ambedkar.
He was also pointed out that “the atrocities against Dalits in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat has cast a long shadow across the country and there is a sense of discomfort within the community,”
He believes that the ruling BJP cannot instill confidence among Dalits by symbolic gestures, like developing five pilgrimage centres where B R Ambedkar lived and worked across India.
“They have to provide the necessary security and the inclusiveness to win over the Dalits to its fold.The right wing fanatic organisations are often perceived as anti-Dalits, specially instances of cow vigilantes that led to attacks on Dalits,” he said. He also categorically blamed the ‘Right wing’ for inciting violence in Koregaon that led to his announcing a Mumbai bandh the next day.
Ambedkar is such a respected name among even non political Dalits that on his request the Dalit Chamber of Commerce cancelled its Business meet scheduled to be held in Mumbai on 3rd January.
“We believe such happenings do not help our interest but we had to respect the call given by Ambedkar ” said a local functionary of the DICCI. ( Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.)
Prakash Ambedkar’s success in bringing Mumbai and parts of Maharashtra to a virtual standstill has been an outcome of meticulous planning to consolidate the Dalit/OBC forces against the Marathas. The Bhima Koregaon incident provided a trigger.
Violence between the Dalit and Maratha communities was reported on Monday after lakhs of Dalits gathered in the city to attend an event to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. Incidents of stone-pelting and vandalism also occurred at Bhima Koregaon in Shiroor tehsil on Monday when people were heading for the war memorial in the village.
The spontaneous call for ‘Maharashtra bandh’ on Tuesday, given by Ambedkar and subsequently calling it off at 4.30 p.m. the same day probably acted as pressure release and though buses and cars were damaged and burnt there was no loss of life or violent clashes between groups.
Other Dalit leaders on the back foot now
Union Minister of State for Social Justice, Ramdas Athwale, former Minister of State for Social Justice in Maharashtra, Advocate Sulekha Kumbhare who is now in Delhi in the National Minorities Commission and Nagpur-North MLA Milind Mane came in for sharp criticism from dalit organizations for keeping silent on the issue.
Athavale was then quick to announce that the Mumbai bandh was a success only because his party had also supported it. Did he really have an option?
As matters stand now, Prakash Ambedkar is the sole Dalit leader in the negotiating position with the CM. When he protested against the combing operations of Dalits in their localities, the operation was called off.
Ambedkar says the CM has also assured that Millind Ekbote of Samast Hindu Aghadi and Sambhaji Bhide of Shiv Pratishtan.
He will wait for their arrests, says Ambedkar.
If the CM keeps his word and they are arrested and tried it will begin a new and vibrant chapter in the political destiny of Dr. Prakash Ambedkar.
He will be perceived as the sole name leading the unhappy Dalits of the country.
Finally, the name does matter!
—Sunita Mudaliar (Executive Editor)