NEW DELHI— Dalit groups from Nagpur have opposed the Congress’s plan to field former BJP MP Nana Patole from the Nagpur Lok Sabha seat against union minister Nitin Gadkari, citing his alleged support to the perpetrators of the Khairlanji murders.
Patole, who joined the Congress a year ago, is now said to be the frontrunner for the Congress ticket from Nagpur Lok Sabha seat.
Dalit activists say Patole had “openly supported the culprits” behind the brutal killing of four members of a Dalit family in Khairlanji village in the Bhandara district of Maharashtra in 2006.
“Nana Patole’s candidature has created unease among a large section of the population in Nagpur and especially among Dalits. The reason behind this unrest is the role Patole played in shielding the culprits behind the brutal massacre of a Dalit Bhotmange family in Khairlanji village of Maharashtra in 2006,” said an email written by a Dalit activist to Rahul Gandhi.
The activist, a PhD student from Nagpur University who did not wish to disclose his name, has also expressed fears that Nagpur could witness caste tensions if Congress fields Patole.
“Despite being the headquarters of the RSS, our city (Nagpur) never witnessed caste or communal tensions. But Patole’s candidature threatens to pit Dalits against the OBCs in this city,” the Dalit activist has alleged, while appealing Gandhi to conduct an independent inquiry into Patole’s role in the Khairlanji lynching.
The Ambedkarite groups have organized a meeting in Nagpur on Wednesday, in which they are likely to pass a resolution to vote against the Congress if Patole is the party’s candidate from Nagpur.
“Patole’s role was anti-Dalit at the time when everyone was outraged over the brutal killings in Khairlanji. We will be forced to vote against the Congress if they field Patole here. Congress should give any other candidate from Nagpur. Congress should not make such mistakes when the entire country is witnessing anti-BJP atmosphere,” Pradip Aaglawe, a Dalit activist and former professor at Nagpur University, told reporters in Nagpur.
Patole has denied the allegations and alleged that the BJP is conspiring to defame him.
“Let them spread the news. Had I given protection to murder accused, people would have ousted me from politics long ago. I don’t believe in caste. The opposition is pained and frustrated at my candidature from Nagpur. It is their conspiracy,” Patole told HuffPost India.
Some Dalit activists and Congress’s Dalit workers have also started a Twitter campaign called #NoMoreNana and #NoCongress4Dalits.
Patole has also told his supporters that Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Dr.B.R. Ambedkar, will support him if he contests from Nagpur.
Ambedkar, who heads the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, has denied this and said that Nagpur would prove to be “Congress’s Waterloo” if they give the ticket to Patole.
“We are not supporting Patole. We are going to put up a candidate from Nagpur. We will never support Patole under any circumstances. His role was suspicious in the Khairlanji incident. In fact, he had been supporting all the accused in Khairlanji case,” Ambedkar said.
When asked if Patole’s candidature has been finalized from Nagpur, Congress spokesperson Atul Londhe said that Congress will field a candidate who will be well versed in constitutional principles.
Four Congress members familiar with the matter told HuffPost India that Patole is likely to get the ticket despite the outrage against him, a move which might impact the Congress in all ten seats in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region, which has a sizeable population of Dalits.