Republican Party of India (A) President Ramdas B. Athawale, who was sworn-in as Minister of State in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s council on Tuesday, is rated as the best survivor among all the Dalit leaders across Maharashtra.
It is like a dream-come-true for the 56-year-old Rajya Sabha member who never batted an eyelid while shifting allegiance from the Congress to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in nearly three decades of his political career.
Always sharp to guess which side the Dalit bread would be buttered, Athawale broke with the Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra in 2011 after losing the 2009 Lok Sabha election from Shirdi constituency.
Having tasted power as a minister in the state, Athawale then joined hands with the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance to contest the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation elections in 2011, and the move proved to be a win-win for all stakeholders.
After the alliance was swept to power in the civic body, he stood by the BJP during the Lok Sabha and assembly elections. Athawale was rewarded with a Rajya Sabha seat in 2014, one of the 19 from the state, with the BJP backing.
The latest union ministerial berth by the BJP comes again with an eye to the crucial elections to the BMC — the richest municipal corporation in the country — in early 2017, where the BJP hopes to trump over its now blow-hot, blow-cold ally Shiv Sena.
Last year, Athawale raked up a huge controversy when he demanded arms for Dalits for self-protection against all types of atrocities of which they are victims all over.
In his own manner, Athawale has attempted to broker peace between the warring Sena and the BJP in Maharashtra, but the efforts of the three-term Lok Sabha member have so far gone largely ignored by both sides.