Interview | Prakash Ambedkar Lok Sabha Election 2019

‘We have given smaller OBCs a face, value,’ says Prakash Ambedkar

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Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi leader talks about vote share, taking on Sena-BJP alliance, fallout with Congress

Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh president Prakash Ambedkar has emerged as a key player in the Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra. He is a leader of the newly-formed Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), a coalition of several small organisations representing marginalised communities including Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The VBA is also expecting to get a lion’s share of the Muslim votes through its association with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).

Mr. Ambedkar spoke to The Hindu about the elections and the prospects of the VBA. Edited excerpts:

The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have accused the VBA of being the B team of the BJP-Shiv Sena. Will you eat into their vote share?

We will be eating into the vote bank of the Sena-BJP alliance. Dhangars, Malis, and OBCs did not vote for the Congress or the NCP last time. We have SC votes in larger numbers, and the Muslims have decided that they will vote of the candidates who are best placed to defeat the BJP-Sena candidates in their constituencies. All these factors have given us strength in all 48 constituencies, which is why they (Congress-NCP) are worried. Because they won’t stand anywhere. We are the main opposition to the Sena-BJP.

What is your projection in terms of vote share in the elections?

Among the smaller OBCs, there is wave in favour of the VBA. Since the Dalits have joined us, the Muslims will join as well, as they want to side with the winning team. On paper, the communities have 55% of the vote share. Of this, how much will translate into votes in our favour will depend on the candidates. Now it is the candidate and his team, which has to convert this wave into votes.

What was the reason behind contesting the Lok Sabha elections?

The Dhangar community’s rally at Pandharpur was the starting point of the VBA. They made a big political decision that henceforth they would not beg from any party since they had been insulted and victimised by the NCP-Congress and the Sena-BJP. Our initial target was the State Assembly elections. Even when we were negotiating with the Congress, the Dhangars were very adamant that we should not have an alliance. Somehow I convinced them that our target was the Assembly and not the Lok Sabha. What we were looking for in the Lok Sabha was representation. But when we saw that even the representation factor was denied by the Congress, the whole group changed their stand and made the Lok Sabha the main target.

You have said you are the main opposition to the Sena-BJP. Why did you choose Solapur over Nagpur?

There about three lakh Muslims and an equal number of Buddhists in Nagpur. They will vote for us if I and AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi urge them. I had once thought of taking on Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. But when I saw that I could easily divert both the community votes in one direction, it became clear that Mr. Gadkari could be defeated. The arithmetic is against him. But contesting from Solapur became more necessary than Nagpur as I had to look into the Dhangar upsurge to give it a face and name. We were hoping that the Congress would field a good candidate. If they had given a good candidate we would not have fielded one. But the Congress candidate is tainted, and the party has compromised itself with the RSS.

The VBA is banking on the Dhangar community votes. You have said your decision to contest from Solapur was tactical. Will the community vote for the VBA across the State?

This is for the first time in the country that the neglected castes have united to form a political front and fight. With my presence, the chances of inter-transferability of votes have increased. Once inter-transferability takes place, we get a huge jump. Besides, what has not been looked into the Indian electoral system is that the smaller OBCs constitute about 40% of the population and they are just taken for granted. Today we have given them a face and value. So now it is in their interest to see that the momentum that they have is retained.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is going alone in Dindori, and has also fielded a candidate who comes from a marginalised community. Will the VBA support the candidate?

There is no question about it. We have already announced a candidate, who has started canvassing in the constituency. The CPI(M) was hobnobbing with the Congress. I was very keen that the CPI(M) comes along with us, but all the time they said it is only the Congress that can defeat the BJP. Withdrawing our candidate at this stage is not possible. Therefore, the CPI(M) will have to go on its own. The Left parties are my friends in andolan, but in elections, we are apart.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 8:36:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/we-have-given-smaller-obcs-a-face-value/article26668385.ece

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