The political battleground in Maharashtra looks volatile. Can the new alliance be able to make a mark or will be reduced to being BJP’s B team? Will it give Congress a tough time?
The 2 October 2018 Gandhi Jayanti saw many big developments across the country. The Bharatiya Janata Party organized many grand celebrations across the country in the form of “Swachhata Hi Seva” initiative-a part and parcel of PM Modi’s ambitious “Swachha Bharat Abhiyan”. While the entire nation was celebrating Gandhi Jayanti, the state of Maharashtra witnessed two major political developments unfolding on the day. First, the CWC meet at Sevagram, Wardha and Second, first-ever public meeting held by Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi. The meeting signaled towards a possible Dalit-Muslim equation ahead of crucial 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Congress rally at Wardha:
In a bid to reclaim Gandhi, the main opposition party Indian National Congress settled for a low-key Padyatra in a complete contrast to BJP’s grand celebrations. The party conducted a Congress Working Committee meeting at Sevagram in Maharashtra’s Wardha. Sevagram Ashram was Mahatma Gandhi’s abode for six years during the freedom struggle. It also stands as a witness of historic CWC meet in 1942 that adopted Gandhi’s proposal of founding the “Quit India” movement against the British. The party even tried to draw parallels between both the meetings equating the four years of Modi rule with the British rule.
Wardha has always been a Congress stronghold. The padyatra arranged by the Congress saw unprecedented crowd turnout giving Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s security a tough time. Rahul Gandhi was greeted by thousands of people who waved at him and jostled with each other to catch a glimpse of the Congress leader. Rahul Gandhi led the march, covering a part of the four-kilometer distance in his vehicle and the rest on foot. He was accompanied by party senior officials like RPN Singh, KC Venugopal, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jyotiraditya Scindia, state unit president Ashok Chavan and Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil.
Sounding the poll bugle for 2019 Lok Sabha polls Congress President Rahul Gandhi said the people “tried” Narendra Modi by giving him mandate in 2014 but his government “got punctured”. He further appealed that it was time to trust the Congress to take India forward. Launching a targeted attack on PM Modi on Rafale Deal, Gandhi said, “When I asked Modiji about the Rafale deal (in Parliament), Modiji avoided eye contact. He would look here and there, up and down. But Modiji could not speak by looking the nation in the eye, because he was lying.” He took on the present government on the issues of demonetization, corruption and rising fuel prices as well.
AIMIM-Bahujan Vanchit Parishad rally at Aurangabad:
While all eyes were glued to the Congress rally in Wardha, a few hundred kilometers away, another political development was taking place. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi and Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh leader Prakash Ambedkar shared the stage for the first time after announcing a tie-up for the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.
Owaisi said at the joint rally that the two parties want “freedom” from the Narendra Modi government, as the followers of the prime minister’s ideology have committed “atrocities” on Dalits and the minorities. Ambedkar, a prominent Dalit leader and grandson of Dr. BR Ambedkar, called for increasing feelings of brotherhood among communities.
Without naming anyone, Owaisi said the head of a prominent political party in Maharashtra is talking about saving the Constitution, but in fact, he is trying to save his nephew, who is facing allegations of corruption. He was apparently referring to NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who had in January this year led `Save the Constitution’ march of opposition parties in Maharashtra. Incidentally, Congress has already denied any tie-up with AIMIM ahead of Lok Sabha polls, however, it had approached Prakash Ambedkar to join the ‘mahagathbandhan’. However, with the new coalition around the corner, the scenario is unlikely to change.
Can the new Dalit-Muslim coalition be the big threat to the opposition in Maharashtra?
Out of the total population of Maharashtra, SC constitutes 17% and the Muslim population is 13 %. Thus, it makes the Dalit-Muslim unified vote bank a formidable combination. Talking about the two parties, though Ambedkar’s Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh couldn’t bring much electoral fortune to him, AIMIM has shown a significant growth in the past decade. The Muslim community has a widespread presence in Aurangabad, Beed, Nanded and Osmanabad, Parbhani, Latur, Jalna, and Hingoli. On the other hand, the districts also have a strong base of SC community.
In 2009, the AIMIM made a debut in the Nanded municipal election. By 2014, the party sent two MLAs to Maharashtra Assembly one was from Aurangabad and the other from Byculla. Currently, the party has as many as 150 elected representatives in local bodies across Maharashtra. The Ambedkar’s party, however, has a strong presence in Akola district in the Vidarbha and has one MLA.
Though traditionally SC votes had been divided, Ambedkar now has a strong chance to make a comeback owing to the anger in Dalit community against the present government. Moreover, leaders like Ramdas Athawle who enjoyed mass support have invited the ire of the community. The opposition to the SC/ST amendment act and Bhima-Koregaon riots gave the necessary push to consolidate Ambedkar’s position as the real representative of the Dalit community.
However, there are strong apprehensions about the practical success of this alliance which looks perfect on paper. Instead, it is strongly speculated that the alliance may end up cutting votes of “secular” parties like Congress and NCP. Thus, any pre-poll alliance between the four parties seem a distant dream.
Yet, we cannot deny the possibility of a post-poll alliance. Take JD(S) in Karnataka for example. The party that contested election against Congress, joined hands with it to form the government in exchange of CM seat. In case, the Congress-NCP-AIMIM-Bharipa manage to get votes more than BJP, the latter two may consider jumping the winning ship in exchange for plush portfolios.
For now, the political battleground in Maharashtra looks volatile and highly ambiguous. It would be interesting to see whether the new alliance be able to make a mark or will be reduced to being BJP’s B team.