On the 128th birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar, his grandson, Prakash Ambedkar, attended the commemoration ceremony in Solapur, one of the districts in Maharashtra with a strong Dalit and Muslim base, who together account for 35 per cent of the city’s population.
He is fighting the Solapur Lok Sabha seat against Sushilkumar Shinde of the Congress, and Jaisiddheshwar Swami of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The seat has seen alternating victories of the two leading national parties in the last two decades.
But this time, it is different, says Akhil Shakya, a lawyer and Solapur district president of Bhim Army, a socio-political outfit.
“The Dalit vote traditionally went to the Congress, but everyone knows by now, that the Congress and the BJP are the same. We all stand united behind Balasaheb (Prakash Ambedkar) this time,” he said. Outfits such as these have lent support to Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, a diverse political front promoted by Ambedkar.
Muslims, who are a fifth of the populace in Solapur Municipal Corporation, have also been traditional voters of the Congress. But Ibrahim Vijapure, remembering that he was always told to vote for the Congress in the past, said: “Jo pailwan bolega usko vote denge (I will vote for the one whom the strongman tells me to).”
He was referring to Taufik Shaikh, the Solapur district president of the All India Majis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). The religious political party, with all its supporters, is strongly behind Ambedkar’s new political project.
Supporters of the front who had arrived at the centrally located Ambedkar statue in Solapur city —chanting Jai Bhim continuously — said that VBA represents at least 30 major small castes, such as malis, salis, kolis, dhangars, lohars, kasars, sutars, tambolis, telis, koshtis, banjaras, nhavis, kaikadis, etc. The front has given Lok Sabha tickets to candidates from these castes, which are unheard of in any mainstream political debate, they said.
Some political observers are buying the argument put up by Ambedkar and his ilk, and are sticking their neck out to assert that neither the Congress nor the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party are the principal opponents to the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena combine. It is the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, they say.