Athawale lives up to his reputation for providing comedic relief in state politics

Then there was the year the creators of the Big Boss reality show thought they would like Ramdas Athawale on their show. Athawale was very excited to finally get to the screen. When they changed their minds, his disappointment was so great that he threatened to sue them under the Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Tribes Act, intended to protect Dalits from exploitation. by the upper castes. He laughed at himself in front of actress Rakhi Sawant, who had appeared in a previous season, publicly pointing out that he had a chance to escape as the show forced its participants to act. that could have destroyed his political career.

For all his love for the big screen, however, his most enduring image is that of him crawling under a barbed wire fence at Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar in northeast Mumbai in 1997. Someone had desecrated a bust of Babasaheb Ambedkar by wearing it with chappals at night. and a young Dalit demonstrating had been killed by police gunfire a week earlier. The Shiv Sena and BJP coalition ruled Maharashtra and this incident caused BJP General Secretary Pramod Mahajan to lose his seat in Lok Sabha the following year. Athawale should have been at the basti earlier because he had been Minister of Social Protection in the previous government of Sharad Pawar, who had chosen him primarily for his skills in agitation on Dalit issues.

His late arrival over a week later, dressed to kill like a gentleman and offering lip service, angered the endless young people – they ran after him with sticks and stones and drove him away. under the fence because the gate was too far to escape in time.

This timely escape even told Sharad Pawar, his political mentor so far, that Ramdas Athawale was no longer of much political importance. Soon the Nationalist Congress Party had no more room for him. Athawale then turned to Congress and then the Shiv Sena with little success in either. He had better luck with the BJP which, lacking a Dalit face, made him a minister. But Amit Shah realized the real value of Athawale faster and wasted no party tickets on him, either in the 2019 Lok Sabha election or even in subsequent assembly ballots, despite the fact that Athawale argued for a few.

Athawale is the classic example of what Professor Ramesh Kamble of the University of Bombay describes as the Dalit leader who only matters at the behest of traditional parties which give only limited power to satisfy the individual. but never enough to empower the community.

Daniel K. Denny