Indian Dalit Buddhist Leader Ramdas Athawale elected as Rajya Sabha MP
Posted on July 3rd, 2014

Ven. BD Dipananda Buddhistdoor International

Aprominent Dalit leader andVice-President of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in India was recently elected to the Rajya Sabha, the Indian Upper House of Parliament, from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) quota.

Ramdas Athawale represents Maharashtra state as a nominee of the BJP. He was also a member of the 14th Lok Sabha, The House of the People, and represented the Pandharpur constituency of Maharashtra and still serving as the President of the Republican Party of India (Athawale).

Ramdas Athawale was inspired by the dream of Dr. Ambedkar, who worked tirelessly for theDalit community. One ofAmbedkar’s followers is Ms Mayawati, Ex-Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and Supremo of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). However,in other states like Maharashtra, the status of Dalits continues to make very slow progress. Like Ms Mayawati, Ramdas Athawale has taken a political position to serve the interests of Dalits, who make up10% of the population, in Maharashtra.  Currently, he has kept the Dalit leadership at an arm’s length from the BJP and the Shiv Sena, the two political parties which areconsidered to be Hindu revivalist parties in India.

Asa Buddhist Dalit, Ramdas advocates promoting Buddhism throughout India. On May 27, 2007, thousands of Dalits and other tribal members converted to Buddhism at a massive gathering in Mumbai to escape the oppressive and stratified Hindu caste system. In this act ofconversion, Ramdas sees himself asfulfilling Ambedkar’s true legacy. Hesaid, The function was a dream come true for Ambedkar’s followers. After the tremendous success of the Buddha ‘dhamma deeksha’ function on October 14, 1956, Ambedkar had planned a similar programme at Mumbai’s Race Course grounds on December 16, 1956. Ambedkar died on December sixth [sic] and the function could not be held.”

He has hosted different Buddhist events in India.  Last Vesak Day on May 13, 2014, he issued a statement: The whole world needs peace. If humanity has to progress, ahimsa has to be followed. World doesn’t want Yuddha but they want the Buddha”. Aant, Deep, Bhav and Buddha’s Panchseel Marg is the only way to progress in life. Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar has accepted Buddhism for the larger humans’ betterment. I wish all the Indians and humans to follow the path of Satya, Pradnya, Ahimsa and Karuna on the occasion of Buddha Poornima.”

Buddhists have been trying to assert control over Mahabodhi Temple, the most sacred Buddhist site, at Bodh Gaya in India. Ramdas Athawale came out in support of monks making such ademand in 2008: We strongly favor Buddhist control over the management of the Mahabodhi temple and to ensure it we seek an amendment to the Mahabodhi Temple Management Act, 1949.” He also said I urged the Bihar government to initiate the process for an amendment to the law.” According to the law, the Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee (BGTMC) should comprise four Buddhists and the same number of Hindu members for a three-year period with the Gaya district magistrate as its ex-officio chairman and the mahant or the presiding priest of the Sankaracharya Math (Saivite monastery in Bodh Gaya) as ex-officio Hindu member.

Ramdas Athawale also visited Sri Lanka as part of an eight member Indian Buddhist delegation and met President Mahinda Rajapakse at the President’s House in Kandy on February 22, 2013. The purpose of the visit was to strengthen ties between the Buddhists of the two countries and bring India and Sri Lanka closer to each other through the historical and cultural links of Buddhism.

 

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