Can the two Aghadis join hands in Maharashtra?

Published : Mar 04, 2024 18:17 IST - 3 MINS READ

Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi leader Prakash Ambedkar in Nagpur on February 7.

Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi leader Prakash Ambedkar in Nagpur on February 7. | Photo Credit: PTI

Why Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad Pawar, and Prakash Ambedkar must bridge their gaps to fight Modi.

On February 2, Prakash Ambedkar, B.R. Ambedkar’s grandson, met the leaders of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in Mumbai. Ambedkar heads the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), a significant force in the State’s politics. While the meeting was important, there is no clarity on whether the two will join forces.

In 2019, Ambedkar allied with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen to secure 7.65 per cent of the votes, which proved decisive in eight seats. Although he lost from Solapur, his candidacy impacted the Congress’ Sushilkumar Shinde, who came second to the BJP candidate. Shinde’s and Ambedkar’s votes could have easily surpassed the BJP’s total.

Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar are still seen as commanding sympathy in the State, but voters view Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the strong option for the general election. In this context, a broad alliance assumes importance. “The alliance with Ambedkar is crucial for the MVA to counter Modi’s appeal,” said Jaydeo Dole, a political observer.

In 1998, Ambedkar was part of the Republican Aikya (Republican Unity), where four republican parties formed an alliance along with the Congress and secured 38 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the State, a performance secular parties have not been able to repeat since. It showed that a strong alliance between the Congress and the smaller republican parties can win in Maharashtra.

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The State’s social structure supports this political reality, say observers. According to Census 2011, Maharashtra has 11.8 per cent Dalit votes. Ambedkar, with his firm anti-BJP, anti-RSS stance, has emerged as their strongest leader. Others such as Ramdas Athawale, Union Minister of State for Social Justice, have aligned with the BJP. The Bhima Koregaon violence of January 1, 2018, cemented Ambedkar’s position when he took a strong stand and called for a Maharashtra bandh.

In March 2018, he formed the VBA. By naming it Vanchit, which means deprived, he aimed to reach out to other communities such as the smaller OBC groups, Scheduled Tribes, and Muslims.

Talks on an alliance have not progressed much, mostly because of mutual distrust. Since the 1952 general election, when B.R. Ambedkar lost to the Congress’ Narayanrao Kajrolkar, staunch Ambedkarites have viewed the Congress as a prime competitor. The Congress is quietly devising a Plan B using Mallikarjun Kharge, a Dalit from Bidar in Karnataka, who speaks Marathi fluently. If Ambedkar withdraws from the MVA at the eleventh hour, the Congress will project Kharge as the Dalit face in Maharashtra.

Prakash Ambedkar always demands an equal number of seats in any alliance, which creates challenges. The MVA’s internal seat sharing is nearly finalised, with the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (Sharad Pawar), and Shiv Sena agreeing on 40 of the 48 seats. Meanwhile, there is social pressure for an MVA-VBA alliance, especially from civil society organisations such as Bharat Jodo Abhiyan, Nirbhay Bano, and Navi Umed-Nava Paryay. “We believe 2024 is not just a battle for one Lok Sabha seat. It is a battle to safeguard democracy in India,” said Sanjay M.G., a social activist and member of Bharat Jodo Abhiyan.

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