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Saturday, July 31, 1999

Battle on between rival RPI factions for symbol

Shashank Mhasawade  
MUMBAI, JULY 30: Factions of the divided Republican Party of India (RPI) are in a fix now as the Election Commission of India has reportedly told the leaders to reach a compromise amongst themselves or face a freeze on the party's poll symbol, the rising sun. The symbol, which has created its own identity amongst Dalits, is the key issue for the politics of seat-sharing for all RPI leaders and its allies like the Nationalist Congress Party.

The complicated situation has emerged after Election Commissioners G V G Krishnamurthy and Lynghdoh, heard the arguments of different RPI leaders on July 29, 1999. The EC has reserved its verdict till next week, giving time to the RPI leaders to reach a compromise. The EC has reportedly given indications that it might even cancel the recognition given to RPI, as it was divided into too many factions.

In the last couple of weeks, the RPI witnessed a clear multi-dimensional split. Ramdas Athavale is with Sharad Pawar and has announced poll alliance with the NCP for thegeneral elections. Prakash Ambedkar has been successful in portraying himself as a separate Dalit entity and an impressive Dalit leader in Maharashtra. To counter Athavale's moves, Ambedkar has joined hands with Congress (I), after having a series of talks with AICC president Sonia Gandhi. Both Athavale and Ambedkar have staked their claim on the rising sun, the RPI poll symbol for the last seventy years.

Apart from the two, Prof Jogendra Kawade and R S Gavai, two more RPI leaders with considerable support amongst Dalits in Maharashtra, have separated themselves from the Athavale faction of the RPI. The two have been claiming that the original RPI is with them and have even expelled Athavale from the party. The duo has also aligned themselves with Congress (I) after senior Congress leader Madhavrao Scindia had a series of talks with them. The two maintain that the poll symbol can only be used by their faction of the RPI and others' attempts to use it would amount to violation of the existing laws.

On theother hand, Athavale expelled Kawade, Gavai and Ambedkar from the RPI last week for not adhering to the party's decision of aligning with Pawar. All of them have strongly argued their case before the EC, making allegations and counter allegations of genuine support from the masses.

Till last year, the RPI was a united party with a national presidium of 10 leaders instead of one president. The members were Athavale, Ambedkar, Kawade, Gavai, B C Kamble, T M Kamble, Shivram Mogha, Ghanshyam Talwatkar, Raja Dhale and Namdeo Dhasal.

As the picture stands today, Athavale and B C Kamble are together. Dhasal has joined Shiv Sena and T M Kamble has kept himself away from the factions. Gavai, Kawade, Dhale, Mogha and Talwatkar are together only to win the poll symbol. If Ambedkar joins the five and makes the equation 6 out of 10, claiming the rising sun, then Athavale will clearly lose on votes.

It is interesting to note that the EC had authorised Gavai for use of the poll symbol and signing the AB form whichnominates a party candidate, for the last elections. Gavai had transferred these rights to Ambedkar after the elections last year. So now it depends on Ambedkar, whether to wake up to the rising sun or watch the EC freeze the symbol.

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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