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Prakash Ambedkar: Social justice, not Ram, will be key poll plank

“I feel that Modi has been caught in a bind. The way he is breaking up organizations, the way he is trying to splinter alliances, there will be no place for politics of religion. Then the talk will be about the politics of communities of the candidates,” says Prakash Ambedkar

After the inauguration of the Ram Temple and Nitish Kumar switching sides, pro-ruling party political analysts have been questioning the relevance of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) and caste census to the upcoming general elections. They have been saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has scored over the opposition. However, in this interview, Prakash Ambedkar, national president of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, asserts that Ram Temple and Nitish, in fact, symbolize Modi’s failure.

How will Nitish Kumar switching sides impact national politics?

I believe that the inauguration of the Ram Temple has sounded the death knell for the politics of religion. That’s because with time, the frenzy we witnessed on 22 January will die out. Frenzy over Holi will take over. Now, Modi ji has been caught in the web woven by him. He was the beneficiary of battles over religion, as long as they were clearly that. Earlier, he used to set the narrative – “Will you vote for those who favour the Muslims or for those who talk of the Hindus?” So, I feel that Modi has been caught in a bind. The way he is breaking up organizations, the way he is trying to splinter alliances, there will be no place for politics of religion. Then the talk will be about the politics of communities of the candidates. That will be the beginning of the politics of communities. I believe that by giving precedence to religion and by not allowing a caste census, Modi ji and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have shown that they have failed. 

It should be understood that the demand for a caste census is the demand of the wider society and the BJP has rejected it. This means that the BJP has cut itself off from those demanding a caste census. 

The second point is that the Muslims know that this time, too, the BJP’s alliance won’t field them as candidates – at least the BJP won’t. Other alliance members may pick some Muslims as their nominees, but they too will be exceptions. So, Muslim candidates will be less in number and the Muslims will vote for candidates who hold the promise of defeating the BJP. So, elections will be majorly a Hindu vs Hindu affair, leaving little scope for politics of religion. This time, the Muslims are saying that if the RSS-BJP has to be defeated, they will have to vote like Muslims per se and not like Congress Muslims, leftist Muslims, Nitish Kumar Muslims or Samajwadi Party (SP) Muslims. I am sure that this will be a big jolt for the BJP. I don’t think there is any constituency which doesn’t have at least a lakh Muslims. In the politics of north India, especially in the big states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Muslims have a sizeable population. And they have now decided to vote for those who talk to them, who talk about them. They will vote for the non-BJP candidates who enjoy the biggest support. Bihar was heading for a one-to-one contest. By pulling Nitish out of the alliance, the BJP has turned the fight multi-party. This will only hurt the BJP. 

How has the fight become multi-party?

You see, there is Lalu’s party. We don’t know whether there will be an alliance with the Congress. But what I have been given to understand is that the Congress will try to keep its votes intact. So, the result would be one more Hindu candidate. The BJP can no longer play the politics of religion. And politics of development is not their forte. So, as I said earlier, society wants a caste census and the BJP has rejected this demand. It no longer enjoys the backing of the OBCs and the Muslims. It is basically dependent on Savarna votes and the Savarnas cannot help it win a majority. So, with respect to Bihar, I will say that Lalu Yadav will emerge stronger. If Lalu ji sits down with the Dalit organizations, coordinates with them, then his strength will increase even further because the Dalits wouldn’t like to go with the BJP. One thing should be said about Lalu ji – he doesn’t budge from his ideology. Because of Lalu Prasad, the Congress will also do politics on the same pattern. The Dalits can’t go with the BJP or Nitish Kumar. They do need a platform. They have got a platform in the Congress. So, I don’t think the Congress will do politics of adjustment in Bihar. I see the same situation in Uttar Pradesh. Before the last Vidhan Sabha polls, Chandrashekhar Azad and SP held talks. After coming out of the meeting, the kind of statement Chandrashekhar gave, saying that Akhilesh wants the votes of the Dalits but not the leader of the Dalits – that statement did considerable damage to Akhilesh. But this time the SP are making no such efforts to bring some to the fore and relegate others to the background. So, the space that is being created, this space the Congress is trying to fill, that is what our information is. So, in the situation that is developing, there is no way Modi is becoming the Prime Minister again.

Prakash Ambedkar, National President, Bahujan Vanchit Aghadi

Another key issue is that the INDIA alliance doesn’t seem to be working. How do you view the role of the Congress in this?

The Congress is behaving like a big brother who thrusts things on you and if you don’t accept them, he thrashes you. That is what has led to the present situation. Secondly, the Congress is playing the politics of compromise and adjustment using the good offices of Kharge. At the same time, it is trying to expand the party’s footprint through Rahul Gandhi. It is clear that the party is not aiming at the 2024 polls. The regional parties have their own objectives – I mean in the four states in which they have a key role, first West Bengal, second Uttar Pradesh, third Bihar and the fourth Maharashtra. The BJP holds 160 seats from these four states. These four states are the epicentre of the ongoing battle. If the Congress is genuinely interested in defeating Modi, it should focus on how to do it, rather than on how many seats it will contest. It will get five to seven seats in each of these states. Even if it wins fewer seats, say four to five, it will still be in the reckoning. And if the BJP does not return to power, a vacuum will be created, which the Congress can fill. No other party can fill it. So, I believe that the Congress is losing an opportunity to re-establish itself. 

You are saying that things are very difficult for Prime Minister Modi this time and that he won’t be the Prime Minister after the polls. What is the basis for your prediction?

The thing is that Modi has not allowed any opposition party to continue in his friends’ list. It has cordial relations with none. Like Hitler, he has simply coerced them to join his camp. The day the BJP fails to get a majority on its own, the day it becomes dependent on other parties – the first condition of other parties to support it will be “No Modi”. That is why I say Modi won’t return as Prime Minister. 

There is also this issue of Dalit political parties – the BSP, your party and others. Don’t you think it is time all Dalit parties worked out a coordinated approach? 

There is no harm in uniting. But when you talk of Dalit politics, all of them are caught in their own webs. Mayawati is caught up in her own cases. Chandrashekhar Azad does his own politics – though there is no reason why he should. Which parties remain? Our existence is limited to Maharashtra. Of course, if we get united, the situation can improve. 

But isn’t there a need for a new pan-Indian Dalit outfit? 

You see, the INDIA alliance has all but collapsed. It is a fact that when INDIA invited Mayawati to come on board, she laid down the condition that she should be made prime minister. You would recall that in 2009, an alliance had projected Mayawati as the prime minister. Campaigning had also begun. But Mayawati herself backed out. Then, Manmohan Singh was prime minister and his government brought the nuclear bill, which was opposed by Chandrababu Naidu and thus an alliance was forged. Mayawati was also a part of that alliance. The BSP joined the alliance and Naidu proposed her as the potential prime minister. But later, Mayawati herself withdrew. So, the stand of Mayawati is that I will come with you only if you promise to make me prime minister. Now, is this a programme for deposing Modi? It is a personal programme. Why would other parties support this programme? The inescapable conclusion is that a puppeteer is controlling her. The people of Uttar Pradesh are looking for an alternative but unfortunately, among the leaders of that state, there is no one who can dare assume that role. 

Last question. And this is about Maratha reservation. Eknath Shinde has announced that till a decision is made, the Marathas will continue to get reservations under the OBC quota. Your reaction? 

No, no. It is not so. Here, (in Maharashtra) there are Marathas and there are Kunbis, too. Kunbis are already eligible for reservations. Now, the Marathas, who have been impoverished, are also demanding reservation. The reservation is as it is. The OBCs have been getting reservations. Some took its benefit, others did not. Now, the situation has changed and the OBCs are protesting Shinde’s decision with their full might and we are backing them. The interests of the OBCs should not be undermined.

Will this impact the Lok Sabha elections?

Yes, substantively. You will see it. 

 (Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)

Forward Press also publishes books on Bahujan issues. Forward Press Books sheds light on the widespread problems as well as the finer aspects of Bahujan (Dalit, OBC, Adivasi, Nomadic, Pasmanda) society, culture, literature and politics. Contact us for a list of FP Books’ titles and to order. Mobile: +917827427311, Email: info@forwardmagazine.in)

About The Author

Nawal Kishore Kumar

Nawal Kishore Kumar is Editor (Hindi), Forward Press

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