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‘It’s Modi vs the masses in 2024’: Prakash Ambedkar

The VBA chief believes his party can offer an alternative to the NDA and the MVA in Maharashtra.

Published : Apr 17, 2024 10:03 IST - 8 MINS READ

Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) president Prakash Ambedkar.

Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) president Prakash Ambedkar. | Photo Credit: PTI

With Maharashtra all set to vote in the first phase of the upcoming Lok Sabha election on April 19, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) leader Prakash Ambedkar is campaigning across the State for his party. He is also contesting from the Akola constituency located in the State’s Vidarbha region. In an exclusive interview, Ambedkar tells Frontline that the 2024 general election will prove that the people do not want Narendra Modi back as the Prime Minister. He claims that the VBA will emerge stronger than before when the results are out on June 4. Excerpts:

We were keeping an eye on the meetings between your VBA and the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) over a possible alliance in Maharashtra. But that did not happen. Today, you are contesting alone all over Maharashtra. Do you think that like 2019, this time too the votes will be divided between your party and the MVA?

I have been meeting many interviewers and noticed that they have forgotten one important point. The situation of 2019 and 2024 is totally different. Then, the BJP and the Shiv Sena were together, and the Congress and NCP [Nationalist Congress Party] were together. Today, the BJP and the Shiv Sena have separated. The Shiv Sena is split into two. Similarly, the Congress has lost many of its strong leaders and even the NCP has split into two parts.

In such a case, VBA is the only party that has not faced any such split or disturbance. We are the main opposition party in Maharashtra, where we are contesting for 40 Lok Sabha seats. No party, neither the BJP nor the Congress nor the Shiv Sena, is contesting on so many seats.

Also Read | It is neck and neck in the first phase of election in Maharashtra

So, you are saying you are going to be the principal opposition party this time?

We will be the largest party this time [in Maharashtra] and if not the single largest, the main opposition. The media is biased against us. They are not ready to accept reality. This time, the battle is between the VBA and the BJP. I will meet the media on June 4 with these results.

In an exclusive interview, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi chief Prakash Ambedkar says that the 2024 general election will prove that the people do not want Narendra Modi back as Prime Minister. | Video Credit: Interview by Amey Tirodkar; Editing by Samson Ronald K.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election when the VBA was in alliance with the AIMIM [All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen of Asaduddin Owaisi], you together polled 40 lakh votes and the voting percentage was 7.65 per cent. But within four months, your alliance saw a decline in the Assembly election where the voting percentage was 4.6 per cent. Today, you do not have an alliance with the AIMIM. Do you think that despite this, your vote share will increase?

Yes. First, about AIMIM: They walked away from an alliance. Second, two days ago, Manoj Jarange-Patil, a leader of the Maratha [reservation] protest, gave a significant statement. He said both the alliances—the MVA and the BJP-led NDA—have cheated the Maratha community. He has a hold on 30 per cent of the voting population of Maharashtra. We are his natural ally. So, Marathas are going to vote for us as they are fed up with both alliances. This is why I am saying our performance will surprise all.

We are seeing your aggressive speeches against Prime Minister Narendra Modi where you are calling him names. At the same time, the Prime Minister has given a slogan: “Ab ki Baar, Char Sau Paar” (This time, Over 400). How do you see this? Where does the BJP stands today?

Let me tell you: the BJP is not crossing 200. Be sure about that. People are walking away from the PM’s rally [which the] media is not showing. This slogan is part of Modi’s mind game. I would like to say to PM Modi that you be prepared to face Tihar jail, as you are going out of power. What you [Modi] have done, by raiding people and all. Not just Modi, but the judges of the courts would also be going to jail for not performing their duties.

“The kind of candidates Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar have put against some of the BJP candidates or even Eknath Shinde’s candidates, people are calling them “match-fixers”. People are aware of it.”

What do you think will decide the outcome of the election?

Electoral bond is a scam. People have understood it. China is sitting in Ladakh. The army men coming back from Ladakh are saying it everywhere. PM Modi won’t be able to hide it from the public now. Despite Pakistan becoming weak, our soldiers are dying on the border. I think these are emotional issues.

Also, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s husband Parakala Prabhakar has alerted Indians, saying that if you give power to Modi for five more years, you will have Manipur everywhere in the country. Third issue is the trading community being affected by the GST.

Do you think the CAA-NRC is also an issue for this election?

Yes. Muslims have united now. This time, they are not voting for Congress. They will vote for the party which is going to defeat the BJP.

In the recent survey by The Hindu-CSDS, two serious issues have emerged: unemployment and inflation. You think these two will also be election issues?

Yes. In the last 10 years, 12.25 crore people became unemployed. Most of them are white-collared. When it comes to agriculture, farmers are asking for MSP [minimum support price]. But that law is not coming. Also, people have started asking questions about whether PM Modi is the PM of India or the PM of Gujarat. He is not acting on fraud by [those from] the Gujarati community.

What about the misuse of [Central] agencies? Would that be an election issue?

Not just agencies, the misuse of government machinery against the non-Gujarati people is the most important issue in this election.

Prakash Ambedkar during the INDIA bloc rally at Shivaji Park in Mumbai on March 17. It was rumoured that Ambedkar’s VBA and the opposition alliance Maha Vikas Aghadi would come to an electoral understanding but the meetings ultimately did not bear fruit.

Prakash Ambedkar during the INDIA bloc rally at Shivaji Park in Mumbai on March 17. It was rumoured that Ambedkar’s VBA and the opposition alliance Maha Vikas Aghadi would come to an electoral understanding but the meetings ultimately did not bear fruit. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

Do you not think that Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar will get sympathy in this case? Because they are the people who faced these agencies?

No. They are not going to get sympathy out of this because they are shy of attacking the BJP. In fact, I would say the kind of candidates they have put against some of the BJP candidates or even Eknath Shinde’s candidates, people are calling Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar “match-fixers”. People are aware of it.

While announcing your list of candidates, you mention the caste along with the name of the candidate. What is your line of thinking behind this?

Basically, inclusiveness is the policy. You will find individuals from smaller OBC communities as our candidates. The Congress and MVA have not given [the ticket to] a single Muslim candidate this time in Maharashtra. We are giving [it to] more than five Muslim candidates. There are 15 OBC candidates. Candidates from the Maratha community are also there.

There is serious criticism about you announcing two candidates: first in Amravati where the Congress has given the ticket to a Buddhist candidate. Still, you are putting up a candidate there.

These are Congress’ narratives. The candidate we were putting up was a young lady from the Buddhist community who married a Maratha boy. Both are social workers. We wanted to bring new blood into the political scene. But when Anandraj Ambedkar [Prakash’s brother] put up his candidature, we thought the Congress and the NCP would give him support. So, the VBA immediately withdrew its female candidate. But as the Congress is not giving support to Anandraj, we are now supporting him.

What about Aurangabad (now Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar)? AIMIM’s Imtiaz Jaleel won in 2019 when he was in an alliance with the VBA. Why are you fielding a candidate against him?

First, AIMIM has walked away from the alliance. Second, Imtiaz could win the election because the VBA had supported him. There was an independent Muslim candidate who polled 50,000 votes. The AIMIM doesn’t have Hindu votes and in Aurangabad, unless you have Hindu votes, you can’t win the election. So, our core votes plus the votes of the independent Muslim candidate from 2019 are enough to win this seat. That’s why the VBA has fielded a candidate in Aurangabad.

Also Read | In Maharashtra, an election like never before

You have supported Supriya Sule this time in Baramati. We have been watching the rivalry between you and Sharad Pawar for decades. But this time you supported Pawar’s daughter.

I have not supported Sharad Pawar, I have supported his daughter. I don’t bring enmity between families. Yes, between me and Pawar, there is a political discourse that we don’t get along and we have been opponents for many years.

About Akola, where you are contesting: in the last two elections, the Congress had fielded Muslim candidates here. That led to the division of votes between the VBA and the Congress. But this time, Congress has given the ticket to a Maratha candidate with strong links to the RSS. How do you see it?

I am comfortably placed right now in Akola. Since there is no Muslim candidate, I am sure the OBCs, whose votes used to go to the BJP in such circumstances, are coming to me this time. Also, Muslims are decisively voting for me to defeat the BJP. So, if the situation continues like today, I am sure I will win Akola this time.

Finally, about the use of huge amounts of money in the election this time: the way money is being spent by all parties, where do you see our democracy heading? Because such use of money will shut the doors of elections for poor and marginalised people.

I see this election as a battle between Modi and the masses. That use of money will not work this time. They don’t want Modi back as PM. I would say that the MVA made a mistake by not recognising the mood of the people. People have made up their minds. The VBA has understood it. That’s why people who don’t want Modi will vote for the VBA this time.

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