Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on Friday questioned Republican Party of India (RPI) leader Ramdas Athavale’s new-found alliance with the right-wing Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), indicating that it was against the ideals of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.
Mr. Athavale, a staunch Ambedkarite who was an ally of the NCP and, later, the Congress, had switched sides recently, causing much heartburn among his former allies. Mr. Pawar, speaking on the 12th foundation day of the NCP at a rain-sodden Somaiya grounds here, admitted that Mr. Athavale had a right to go where he pleased and that while he would not criticise him, he was worried about Mr. Athavale’s antecedents as a follower of Dr. Ambedkar and how they were incompatible with the thinking of his current allies.
Extolling Dr. Ambedkar’s towering contribution to the country and his vision for social equality, Mr. Pawar said that when he accepted ‘deeksha’ at Nagpur on October 14, 1956, he had listed 22 pledges which his followers were to respect. Mr. Pawar read out a few of these pledges: “I shall not consider Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh as God, nor shall I worship them. I shall not consider Ram and Krishna as God, nor shall I worship them…and I will not perform any rituals to be performed by Brahmins.”
How, Mr. Pawar asked, when Mr. Athavale allies with a party whose leader calls himself a “Hinduhridaysamrat”, could the trend of thinking be compatible with Dr. Ambedkar’s pledges? India, he said, was a land of many communities and religions and there had to be unity among them. Calling oneself a leader of a single community threatened the unity of that composite culture, he pointed out.
He who called himself “Hinduhridaysamrat” went against the unity of religions, he said. Mr. Pawar said the BJP was a party that equated Hindutva with nationalism or national pride. Again, he pointed out, one could not identify a single religion with nationalism given that there were many religions and communities in India. Is Ramdas going to agree with these ideals, Mr. Pawar asked. If he did, then he was departing from Dr. Ambedkar’s philosophy. By joining up with the saffron parties, said Mr. Pawar, Mr. Athavale had gone very far from his avowed ideas.
NCP leaders, including Home Minister R.R. Patil, targeted Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray for opposing the renaming of Dadar station as Chaityabhoomi, among other issues. Mr. Pawar said his party was not interested in finishing off anyone or disrupting anything. All the NCP wanted was to provide social justice and equality to the poor and backward sections.
Following Mr. Athavale’s exit as an ally, both the Congress and the NCP have realised the need to woo the Scheduled Castes and the backward sections of society. The NCP announced a charter of demands which, Mr. Pawar said, all the NCP functionaries and workers would implement. The 12th foundation day of the party was celebrated as social justice day and a list of 41 demands, which Mr. Pawar described as “Magna Carta,” was released on the occasion. It included the demand for acquiring 12.5 acres of land from Indu Mills near Chaityabhoomi in Dadar and constructing a memorial to Dr. Ambedkar there. Chaityabhoomi, where Dr. Ambedkar was cremated, is held as a sacred place. The NCP also demanded that the Dadar railway station be renamed as Chaityabhoomi railway station, setting at rest speculation that it had struck a compromise with the Sena, which was opposed to the demand. Street battles had broken out between the NCP and the Sena over remarks made by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar on the issue of renaming the station till Mr. Pawar senior reportedly called up Bal Thackeray and achieved a truce.
The Congress had written to the Central government 14 months ago, demanding the renaming of Dadar station as Chaityabhoomi. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan will soon lead a delegation to meet the Prime Minister and urge him to expedite a decision on the Indu Mills land so that a memorial to Dr. Ambedkar could be constructed.
The NCP’s charter has a strong focus on the scheduled castes and backward sections and lists various demands and concessions for them. Hindu