Wednesday, December 21, 2011

[ZESTCaste] A new Ambedkar icon in the making

A new Ambedkar icon in the making
Anandraj Ambedkar
Dhaval Kulkarni
Last Updated : 18 Dec 2011 09:36:08 AM IST

MUMBAI: He carries a famous name. His grandfather was one of India's
iconic visionaries. His followers call him sarsenanai
(commander-in-chief) of his party, the Republican Sena. Anandraj
Ambedkar, Babasaheb Ambedkar's grandson and the youngest son of
Yeshwant "Bhaiyyasaheb" Ambedkar is giving Maharashtra's Congress-NCP
ruling combine the jitters before the municipal elections.

The demand for an international Ambedkar memorial has been gathering
dust in Maharashtra for long. On December 6, Babasaheb's death
anniversary, Anandraj and party cadres stormed the premises of the
defunct Indu textile mill at Dadar demanding the entire 12.5 acres of
mill land be used to construct the memorial. It's situated near
Chaityabhoomi where Babasaheb was cremated. "On the lines of the
Statue of Liberty, we want a 200-foot tall statue of Babasaheb on a
200-foot tall pedestal called the Statue of Equality," says Anandraj,
adding that the memorial could also have a library and museum. The
Republican Sena has stationed Buddhist monks and activists on the
premises 24/7 and has also installed statues of Ambedkar and Lord
Buddha. The Congress-NCP combine facing the corporation elections in
Mumbai, Thane, Nashik and Nagpur—which have a substantial chunk of
Dalit voters—has serious cause for worry.

Dalit politics in Maharashtra, the home state of Ambedkar and Bahujan
icons like Mahatma Jotiba Phule and Chhatrapati Shahu, is intensely
fractured. Factions of the Republican Party of India (RPI) are vying
for the support of the Dalit Buddhists who form the largest chunk of
scheduled castes. The Buddhists are among the most organised,
assertive and militant caste groups in the state. They have used
education as a means of upward mobility. They once fought pitched
street battles with the Shiv Sena and are seen as the only force that
can stand up to the Sena in the use of raw muscle power.

Dalit politics in Maharashtra has two big leaders: Anandraj's elder
brother Prakash Ambedkar and Ramdas Athavale, both former Lok Sabha
MPs. Prakash, former Bharatiya Republican Paksha-Bahujan Mahasangh
(BRP-BMS) MP from Akola in Vidarbha, is known for the 'Akola Pattern':
uniting Dalits, OBCs, tribals and other weaker sections. His party has
two legislators in the Maharashtra Assembly. The redoubtable Athavale
has tied up with his erstwhile foes, the Shiv Sena and BJP after
breaking his two-decade long association with the Congress-NCP. His
supporters attribute his defeat in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls from
Shirdi in Ahmednagar to sabotage by the local Congress and NCP
leaders. His decision to enter the 'Shivshakti-Bhimshakti' rainbow
alliance is a matter of intense debate in the community. Anandraj, who
heads the 'Bouddhajan Panchayat' (a Buddhist organisation), is the
latest entrant into the scene.

"In case the Congress does not comply with our demand for a memorial,
we will campaign against them wherever the elections are held,"
Anandraj told The Sunday Standard, adding that they would also take a
stance against the ruling combine in Mumbai and "expose" it in case
the Congress sought to "throttle" the issue. He says his first
priority is to "socially mobilise the Ambedkarite movement" and take
Babasaheb's message to the masses, especially the youth. He claims
that though his sympathies lie with BRP-BMS, he devotes his energies
to the Republican Sena.

Anandraj, an engineer with an MA in management studies, contested the
2004 Assembly polls unsuccessfully from Bhandup in Mumbai as a BRP-BMS
candidate. He denies he isn't taking the political plunge. "I have no
such plans now but in case the Congress insults Babasaheb, we will
campaign against them," he says. "The Dalit movement lacked proper
leadership after Babasaheb and hence lost its way. If it had, then
Maharashtra would have witnessed a political miracle taking place like
in Uttar Pradesh".

His associates say that Anandraj, who is in the construction business,
has always been socially active. He was the Mumbai chief of the
BRP-BMS, and one of his brother's key strategists. Republican Sena
cadres laud him as one of the few Dalit leaders who has reached out to
other social sections apart from his natural core constituency of
Dalits and Buddhists. "He can gel with the smallest of workers," said
Ashok Sonawane, an OBC activist, and Republican Sena's state
secretary, adding that a section of other backwards movements was also
aligned with him. His associates say Anandraj has a keen political
sense and is more outgoing than his brother.

The Maharashtra state government has also sought land from the Centre
for an Ambedkar memorial. After Anandraj's agitation, Chief Minister
Prithviraj Chavan met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, seeking a quick
decision. The NCP, which earlier managed to attract the Dalit vote due
to its association with Athavale, had also called for the Dadar
railway station to be renamed Chaityabhoomi, a demand opposed by the
Shiv Sena and MNS. Athavale has demanded the Mumbai Central Railway
station be named after Babasaheb Ambedkar.

However, there are some who are sceptical about Anandraj's entry into
the already fragmented Dalit politics. Surendra Jondhale, Professor
and Head, Department of Civics and Politics at the University of
Mumbai, points to the recurrent electoral defeat of the RPI factions.
He says agitational politics are taking a backseat. "(Anandraj) does
not have a political base or a social base and he lacks a
constituency," says Jondhale, however admitting that his act had made
him come across as a "bold and courageous" player.


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