Ramdas Athawale is a prominent Dalit leader. He is the president of the Republican Party of India (RPI) and a member of the Rajya Sabha. Athawale began his political career in the 1980s as a member of the Dalit Panther Movement. He later joined the RPI and became its president in 1991. He has been elected as a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly five times. He was also a member of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, from 1999 to 2004.
Athawale is known for his work in promoting the welfare of Dalits and other marginalized communities in India. He has been a vocal advocate for the rights of Dalits and has worked to eradicate caste-based discrimination and prejudice in Indian society. He has also been a strong supporter of affirmative action policies that aim to provide equal opportunities for Dalits and other backward classes in education and employment.
In 2016, Athawale was appointed Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment. In this role, he continues to work towards promoting social justice and empowerment for marginalized communities in India. He has also been a strong advocate for the rights of women and has supported various initiatives aimed at promoting gender equality in Indian society.
Anjali Bhatia talked to Ramdas Athawale.
Q: Can you tell us about your role as Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment of India?
A: As the Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment of India, my primary responsibility is to oversee the implementation of policies and programes that aim to promote social justice and empowerment of marginalized communities in India. This includes initiatives related to the welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, Persons with Disabilities, Senior Citizens, and other vulnerable sections of society. I also work to ensure that the constitutional rights of these communities are protected and their voices are heard at the national level.
Q: What are some of the key initiatives that your ministry has undertaken to promote social justice and empowerment in India?
A: One of the key initiatives is the implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which is designed to prevent atrocities against these communities and provide them with legal protection. We have also launched several schemes aimed at improving the educational and economic status of these communities, such as the Dr. Ambedkar Scheme for Social Integration through Inter-Caste Marriages and the Venture Capital Fund for Scheduled Castes. Additionally, our ministry has been working to provide equal opportunities and access to resources for persons with disabilities. As part of our initiatives the Accessible India Campaign and the Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan were launched
Q: How do you envision India’s future with regard to social justice and empowerment?
A: I believe that India has made significant progress in the field of social justice and empowerment, but there is still a long way to go. My vision for India’s future is one where every citizen, regardless of their caste, religion, gender, or ability, has equal access to opportunities and resources. We need to work towards building a more inclusive society, where marginalized communities are not just given a seat at the table, but are actively involved in the decision-making process. To achieve this vision, we need to continue to work towards eradicating discrimination and prejudice, and promoting policies that enable social justice and empowerment for all.
Q: Would you mind telling me what you think of the Constitution of India drafted by BR Ambedkar?
A: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar played a significant role in drafting the Indian Constitution. It is one of the most remarkable documents ever written. The Constitution of India is a progressive and forward-looking document that enshrines the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Indian citizens. The Indian Constitution is a shining example of India’s commitment to democracy, secularism, and social justice. It is a testament to India’s pluralistic and diverse society, where people from different backgrounds and religions can coexist peacefully and prosper together. The Constitution reflects Dr. Ambedkar’s vision of a just and equitable society, where everyone has equal opportunities and access to resources. We must uphold these values and work towards building a more inclusive and equitable society.
Q: Would you agree with some people who want the Constitution changed?
A: The provisions for change are incorporated into the Constitution. The Constitution has been amended several times over the years. However, its spirit must remain intact since it is working well.
Q: The Lok Sabha elections are scheduled for 2024. What preparations are being made for that?
A: We have our party in every state, in North East, North India and South India. If BJP takes RPI along in the Lok Sabha elections, both parties will be benefited. Our party’s base is increasing rapidly across the country. If BJP takes us along in Uttar Pradesh, along with Dalit votes, we will also get Muslim vote. Mayawati has become weak as the leader of the Dalits. Given the weak position of Mayawati, Dalit voters may come towards RPI. In such a situation, BJP can strengthen itself further by increasing the role of RPI in Uttar Pradesh. Our party got two seats in the Nagaland assembly elections. I have spoken to BJP National President JP Nadda and National Organization General Secretary BL Santosh. He has also discussed this with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Q: How many seats do you think the BJP will get in the coming Lok Sabha elections?
A: BJP will get more than 350 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. BJP has made a lot of achievements under other central schemes including Jan Dhan Yojana, Mudra Yojana, PM Awas Yojana, Ujjwala Yojana and so on. The people have benefited so they are naturally inclined towards the BJP and our charismatic Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Q: What do you think about Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra?
A: Instead of connecting with India, he should bring unity to his party. Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra was Bharat Todo Yatra. If Rahul Gandhi strengthens his party instead of bringing unity to India, then some results might come. The country is one. Babasaheb has united the whole country through his Constitution.
Q: What is your expectation from the government on power sharing in Maharashtra?
A: Our party’s status in Maharashtra is good, and we hope it will also be part of the Eknath Shinde government. When the cabinet expansion takes place in Maharashtra, one or two leaders from our party should get ministerial berths.
Q: From where are you preparing to contest the Lok Sabha elections?
A: Shirdi (Maharashtra) is the preferred seat for the Lok Sabha. I contested Shirdi’s election in 2009, but lost. My tenure in the Rajya Sabha is till 2026, but now I want to go to the Lok Sabha. Since 2009, the Shiv Sena has been winning the Shirdi Lok Sabha seat continuously. This time the Shiv Sena has split. In this situation, winning the seat is most likely