Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale said he will not distance the Republican Party of India from the National Democratic Alliance even though his outfit has been excluded from the alliance in Maharashtra. In an interview to The Indian Express, he urged the Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena combine to not take the Dalit support for granted.

The Republican Party of India is part of the ruling NDA at the Centre and Athawale is a member of the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra. Last month, his party was excluded from the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in the state for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Voting for the 48 parliamentary seats in Maharashtra will be held in four phases starting April 11. The Shiv Sena will contest from 23 of the seats and the BJP from the rest.

“I am extremely unhappy with the Shiv Sena-BJP leaders’ decision to undermine the Republican Party of India,” he said. “They should have conceded at least one Lok Sabha seat to the Republican Party of India.”

Athawale claimed Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and BJP President Amit Shah had promised to accommodate two members of his party in the Maharashtra Legislative Council and adjust both in the state government on a rotation basis for six months each. Although the assurances have been “all on paper”, Athawale said he is not planning to distance himself from the NDA as any extreme step at this moment will amount to “premature politics”.

“The Republican Party of India has taken the decision to support the NDA,” he said. “But I would like to warn the BJP-Sena not to take Dalits’ support for granted. Give us respect. Get our respect.”

Athwale said his party will insist that the BJP in its election manifesto state that the Constitution will not be changed and that reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Castes will remain intact. “They should also consider our demand for five-acre land to landless Dalits,” he said.

On the possibility of an alliance with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, Athawale said he has always received an open invitation from the two parties. “But we cannot forget the ill treatment meted to us by the Congress-NCP in the past,” he said, referring to a Congress “plot” to defeat him from from Shirdi constituency in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. “After the humiliation, I took a decision after adequate consultation within my party to have an alliance with Shiv Sena.”

Athawale claimed that the Congress-NCP alliance had used Dalits only as a vote bank. “Whereas the [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi government has been more responsive in addressing the policies or projects which help in uplift of Dalits,” he said.

Athawale expressed doubt over whether the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, led by Dr BR Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar, would succeed in winning seats. The outfit is a coalition of Dalit and Muslim leaders jointly formed by Ambedkar and All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi.

“He [Prakash Ambedkar] will cut into the Congress-NCP vote base,” said Athawale, adding that his party’s Dalit base would remain intact. “Ambedkar’s politics will work to Shiv Sena-BJP’s advantage.”