Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, formed the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), a party of the marginalised and deprived sections of society, in March 2018. The VBA has incorporated the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (itself a splinter group of the Republican Party of India), which was started by Prakash Ambedkar in 1994, and has an alliance with Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). The VBA and its alliance partner aimed to garner the Dalit-Muslim vote in Maharashtra. Prakash Ambedkar wanted a pre-election tie-up with other secular parties. He was keen to have a dialogue with Congress president Rahul Gandhi but this never materialised. So the VBA decided to go it alone in the recently concluded Lok Sabha election. Prakash Ambedkar announced that the VBA would put up a candidate in each of the State’s 48 Lok Sabha seats. While many VBA candidates were submerged in the overpowering majority secured by candidates of bigger political parties, there were a number of surprises, too. Not least was the election of the AIMIM’s Imtiyaz Jaleel in Aurangabad. Jaleel trumped a four-term Shiv Sena Member of Parliament. Other VBA candidates served to fragment the votes, and while, in the short run, this may seem to be more destructive, it has certainly served to effectively launch the VBA especially for the upcoming Assembly election later this year in Maharashtra. Playing the spoiler, it has also sent out a message that the Congress-NCP would have won more seats if they had tied up with the VBA.
Prakash Ambedkar spoke in general about the outcome of the election and the role of the VBA. Excerpts from his conversation with Frontline.
At the beginning of the year, I had said Dalits and Muslims would not vote for the Congress even if they were disillusioned with the BJP. I was looking at the stand taken by Muslim religious leaders; their main aim was to defeat the BJP and so they decided that Muslims should only vote for a candidate who was most likely to defeat the BJP. It was on this basis that I said Muslims would not vote for any one single party and, therefore, the Congress would not be the only choice for the Muslim vote.
I was not shaken by the results, but I dispute the results because in certain parliamentary constituencies, Scheduled Caste people and Muslims constitute 45 per cent of the population—these are voters who have vowed not to vote for the BJP—but even in these constituencies the BJP has won. The second part is the leadership of the opposition has totally failed to raise the right issues at the right time. In fact, the main opposition party gave up even before the fight could begin.
As far as the VBA’s results are concerned, we are pleased that a one-year-old party could give such a jolt to both the BJP and to the Shiv Sena combine and to the Congress-NCP alliance. This election has demonstrated that Vanchit is the rising sun in the State’s politics, whereas the Congress is on the losing side.
With regard to the seats lost by the VBA, we lost not only in the two seats I contested but also in all the other seats. The simple reason for this is that the local Muslim clerics failed to follow the directions of the central Muslim clerics, which was to vote for whichever candidate was most likely to defeat the BJP in that particular constituency. But the local Muslim leaders issued fatwas, in a manner of speaking, that they should vote for the Congress candidate. So we did not get the Muslim vote and we lost.
As I have already said, the Congress gave up the fight even before it could begin. Among the traditional voters of the Congress are Marathas. Marathas in this election changed sides and they went with the BJP. Had the local Muslim clerics not issued the fatwas in favour of the Congress, we would have been better placed to defeat the BJP-Sena alliance.
National political parties have been made captive by a handful of families. It is these families that are given the ticket to fight the seats in the Assembly and parliamentary election. The common man is not allowed any place in this. He is just converted into a voter. The other point is that the national political parties are all parties of the forward castes. The benevolent leadership of yesteryear is no longer alive. The leadership of present times is either a caste-based leader or a religion-based leader. This kind of leadership is harmful to the future of the nation. Hence, there is a pressing need for the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, which will not be exclusive but inclusive.
In this election, the VBA has shown itself to have some power, and the Congress and the BJP recognise that. In fact, they have given us this status! The marginalised and deprived sections of society, whom we represent, are now looking to us with hope to realise their aspirations. We expect better results in the coming Assembly election.
As for the Republican Party of India, I do not see any future for any RPI leader unless he or she is propped up by established political parties.
As told to Lyla Bavadam