The newly appointed Minister of State for social justice and empowerment in the Modi government, Ramdas Athawale, arrived in Nagpur on Saturday, October 8, for the first time after he became the minister. Athawale, who was greeted with firecrackers, was dressed in a red shirt and a bright yellow Nehru jacket with bling sunglasses.
Addressing his first press conference after being appointed as the minister, during his four-day Vidarbha tour, he expressed his support for a separate Vidarbha and concern over farmer’s suicides in Vidarbha. He said, “I hope the Modi government will carve out more states like Telangana.”
Talking about reservations, Athawale said that he’d move a proposal to increase the caste-based reservations in the country from 50% to 75%. Interestingly, Athawale, in the same breath, spoke about the need to encourage inter-caste marriages in order to bring an end to casteism in the country.
Stating that a lot of injustice has been meted out to Dalits in our country, he also spoke about the Maratha protest going on in Maharashtra for the past two months.
Athawale was recently panned by the media for changing his opinion on the Maratha protest. While he initially said that the protest instilled fear amongst the Dalits, later he changed his stance, saying that the Maratha reservation was worth emulating, as it’s a silent protest.
When Nation Next asked him whether the BJP pressurised him to change his stance on the Maratha protest, he said. “The Maratha agitation is led by common people and is apolitical in nature. It has no political backing. People voluntarily joined the protest, as they were outraged due to the Kopardi rape incident. Dalits don’t have a reason to fear, as the Marathas’ demand to review Atrocities Act won’t adulterate the law. It will only ensure that the act doesn’t get misused. The act won’t be repealed anyway.”
He also said, “There’s a lot of unrest among Maratha, Gujjars and Jat communities. They are socially backward and face lot of problems in education field. The Parliament should increase the caste-based reservation up to 75%. No reservations on the basis of economic criteria would be accepted.”
Athawale announced that he’d be organising a ‘Dalit-Maratha unity rally’ on October 19 to make peace between Dalits and Marathas. He also declared that the scholarships ranging from Rs 230 to Rs 1200 per month would be granted to almost 68 lakh students belonging to SC, ST and OBC categories.