By Quaid Najmi
March 28, 2019
Mumbai: When Prakash Ambedkar filed his nomination papers from the Solapur and Akola Lok Sabha constituencies as a Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) nominee this week, more than 200,000 supporters followed him in each town, sending shivers down the political parties, especially the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena and the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliances.
Prakash Ambedkar is the grandson of Babasaheb Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution, and the VBA is the political baby of his Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) and the Owaisi brothers’ All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).
This formidable Dalit-Muslim brotherhood, virtually untested in state politics, though tried out marginally in Uttar Pradesh between the Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), poses an unprecedented challenge in Maharashtra this time.
Turning the screws on both the opposing alliances by targeting their support among Dalits and Muslims, the unprecedented VBA experiment could probably change the attitude of the major mainstream parties vis-a-vis the two sections.
Until now, the major Dalit and Muslim groups/parties had to be content to be in alliance with the other major groupings, but not anymore as the VBA offers a clear-cut option to both sections, inclusive of others like tribals, Dhangars, Kolis and several fringe or deprived sections.
The huge turnout in Solapur and Akola has started giving nightmares to the BJP-Sena and Congress-NCP on what it could spell in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) vote-catch.
The show of strength comes barely a month after Ambedkar and Owaisi addressed a mammoth public rally in Mumbai and earlier in Aurangabad, which had sent alarm bells clanging in political circles.
Ambedkar, 64, a three-time parliamentarian, including one term in the Rajya Sabha, has also decided to field VBA candidates in 47 Lok Sabha constituencies, leaving Aurangabad for the AIMIM, which has nominated its high-profile legislator Imtiyaz Jaleel, a TV journalist-turned politician.
In Solapur, Ambedkar will lock horns with Congress strongman Sushilkumar Shinde, a former Union Home Minister and state Chief Minister, while the BJP has nominated well-known spiritual leader Jaysiddheshwar Shivacharya Swami.
In Akola, won by Ambedkar twice in 1998 and 1999, the challenge will be against three-time BJP MP Sanjay S. Dhotre and Congress’ Hidayatullah B. Patel, who finished second in the 2009 and 2014 general elections.
Interestingly, earlier this week, Shinde – who has won from Solapur thrice in 1998, 1999 and 2009 – created a political stir by claiming he and his legislator daughter Praniti were lured by the BJP. The BJP retorted that Shinde was making such claims as he sensed defeat in Solapur.
Though the Congress-NCP has dismissed the VBA as the BJP’s “Team B”, Ambedkar hit back, saying his main fight is with the BJP-Sena combine as the Congress-NCP is a weakened force in the state.
His grouse stems from the fact that the Congress-NCP unceremoniously spurned his offer for a Grand Alliance which included the VBA. The Congress-NCP found his demand for contesting nearly half the 48 seats in Maharashtra too pricey.
In the minority-dominated Aurangabad constituency, Jaleel will challenge the might of Shiv Sena stalwart Chandrakant Khaire and Congress’ Subhash Zhambad, amidst speculation that the party may drop Zhambad and opt for rebel MLA Abdul Sattar A. Nabi.
With the BSP-SP alliance also fielding Dalit and Muslim candidates in Maharashtra, political pundits forecast a tough time for the BJP-Sena and Congress-NCP alliances in the Lok Sabha polls.
However, the BSP elephant has barely impressed Maharashtra voters in the past few Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, though the SP has cycled its way through in Mumbai and surroundings with a legislator and some municipal corporators.