Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi chief speaks on the emergence of a ‘new political situation’ with Maharashtra elections
Geetanjali Minhas | October 11, 2019 | Mumbai
Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr BR Ambedkar and popularly known as Balasaheb Ambedkar, heads the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA). The three-time MP founded this new political party last year with a vision of Ambedkarism, secularism, socialism and progressivism. The VBA, registered this year before the Lok Sabha elections, is now contesting the Maharashtra assembly elections. Busy in the campaign, he found time to answer queries from Geetanjali Minhas of Governance Now. Edited excerpts from the interview:
As Maharashtra goes to the assembly elections, what are the issues before the voter?
Our manifesto says that that education is important and the government bears expenses from KG to PG. We will ensure that 10% of the total budget is reserved for education. It is our investment in the future generation. We will be providing land rights for nomadic tribes who do not own land. We will be transferring water from wetlands to drylands. The Tata Dams, with almost 40 TMC water, produce 450 MW of electricity. With India producing excess power now, this water from wetlands can instead be used to feed drylands and people. Our other document visions include implementation of MSP for agriculture sector and strengthening of taluka marketing committees.
During the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year, your party did not win any seat, yet it had 14% vote share and was at third position in half a dozen seats. Now you have said that your party is contesting all 288 assembly seats. What is your assessment in terms of vote share?
We will jump from 14% to about 26-27%. In some constituencies our growth will be vertical as against horizontal jump in the earlier election.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has said that VBA could emerge as powerful force after the elections. Why do you think your party will stand out over the rest in the assembly elections?
We represent nearly Vanchit groups [who form 30% of the population] and scheduled caste groups [12%]. If we can swing Muslim community towards us we have a fair chance. Therefore, the chief minister is worried about the situation.
Do you see a new political situation emerging?
Yes, it’s a new situation in which people are not able to grasp as to what will be the shift. For the first time we started giving the neglected class representation and recognition in parliament irrespective of their strength in individual constituency. The smaller OBCs, i.e., the microscopic minorities within Hindus have realized that unless they join hands they will not be able to form a force. We have taken up in parliament issues of reservation, promotion, scholarship, admissions and hostels which concern them and we hope they will stand with us in very large numbers.
You were keen to continue your alliance with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. Why has it not worked out?
For the simple reason that before talks could conclude, AIMIM broke away. Some of the videos circulated on YouTube by AIMIM workers have led to the alliance breaking out. Demanding more seats is an issue but continuing with the dialogue is most important. AIMIM broke the dialogue and alliance.
You reached out to the Congress for an alliance. Why did it not work out? Congress leader Vijay Wadettiwar has said that you were indecisive.
Any Tom, Dick and Harry from the Congress party speaks his mind when the party itself is indecisive. During Lok Sabha elections I had given them an option for 144 seats but there was no reply. The Congress is a feudal party. We are working for rights of have-nots. The two parties are culturally and ideologically different and cannot ally. Their leaders say they have a right to fly in helicopters but Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi does not have the same rights and should move around in bullock carts and not even cars. Who is financing their helicopters? Are they paying from their own pockets or is the party funding them? Our mentalities are different. The vanchits who were so far nonassertive have now started saying that they are mainstream.
You protested against the felling of trees at Aarey Colony in Goregaon for a Metro project after the Bombay high court order. The authorities maintain that some ecological price for development is inevitable and it will plant double the trees. Your views.
I would request you all to go through the report of the supreme court appointed committee in 2015.The detailed report has said that Goregaon and SGNP [Sanjay Gandhi National Park] are green lungs and therefore the alternative land at Vikhroli can be used for construction of the metro car shed. Building the car shed at Aarey is only a gimmick. I will soon be coming out with figures to show how building the car shed at Aarey is a ploy to grab land.
Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRCL) MD Ashwini Bhide has said that the authority will go ahead with the car shed at the same spot…
Ashwini Bhide is on record saying that. But she does not realize that the election is round the corner and anything can happen. We are saying that if we come to power we will shift the car shed from Goregaon to Vikhroli. Even if we are in opposition we will force the government to change the location. Goregaon will remain a green area with the rider that all adivasis who are stakeholders and residing there are entitled to basic facilities and an alternative source of income.
One of the biggest problems in Mumbai is that there is no 7/12 abstract of [property ownership record]. You will see that Aagri and Koliwada lands are being encroached upon by the government under the SRA Scheme. The supreme court had to take cognizance of our agitation for the simple reason that we cited Lordship Chinnappa Reddy’s 122-page judgment related to the jurisdiction of the latest patent. Almost 90 pages of the judgment are on the history of Mumbai. The lordship established the history of India right from Portuguese rule and it defines the rights of natives of Mumbai, ie; the Aagris, Kolis, Bhandaris and east Indians. However, the said judgment and the Bombay high court judgment are in conflict.
We are saying that if we come to power we will give the natives ownership of their own lands and provide them property cards.
There has been criticism of VBA for declaring its candidates’ caste while filling forms. This has been viewed as a move to polarize votes in the name of caste and concentration of power in the hands of Marathas and Brahmins. Your views.
See, power is basically concentrated not in Marathas but a few Maratha families and therefore now they are feeling the pinch. We are demanding that the Sena, Congress, BJP and NCP mention the community of their candidates. You will find they only belong to two or three communities and not more than that. Within Marathas all candidates are related and carrying family power. They could be from BJP, NCP, Shiv Sena or Congress. We are asking, why power should be restricted to a few. It should be evenly spread. We are consciously making citizens and voters aware that we believe in caste plurality and not family-dominated rule. For that reason we have mentioned communities of our candidates. We are saying that we are socializing democracy. Every political party is now feeling the heat for following the socialization process. Once this process begins the next step will be the five-year agenda of political parties. We are intending to eliminate caste and religion from electoral politics.
You have been critical of the alleged discrepancies in the counting of votes. Can you tell us more on that?
Our petition on this issue is pending in the Bombay high court. In all the constituencies of Maharashtra there is difference between polled votes and counted votes. We are asking the election commission why this difference has taken place. We are asking the election commission to face the court on the issue and if they do not we will ask the court for permission to demonstrate how these machines can be manipulated.
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