Ramdas Athawale is the President of the Republican Party of India (RPI). He is the Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment in the Narendra Modi government and is a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra.
He entered politics in the early 1970s with the Dalit Panther movement in Maharashtra. The movement's heyday lasted from the 1970s through the 1980s, and it was later joined by many Dalit-Buddhist activists. In 1990, he was elected as a Member of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. During the term, he held the position of Cabinet Minister, responsible for Employment Guarantee Scheme and Prohibition Propaganda, Social Welfare and Transport in the government of Maharashtra.
Athawale represented Mumbai North Central in the 12th Lok Sabha during 1998-99 and was elected to serve a second term in the 13th Lok Sabha of 1999-2004. A third term, in the 14th Lok Sabha, followed from 2004-2009. However, he lost the seat in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
He had once demanded firearms for Dalits for their self-defense and to fight against oppression.
Athawale is an important member of the Dalit community in Maharashtra. His party has allied with the Shiv Sena-BJP bloc in Maharashtra in the past. Various parties have frequently reached out to him due to his perceived hold on the scattered Maharashtrian Dalit vote.