Mr Athawale, who heads the Republican Party of India (Athawale), an NDA ally, has been a trade unionist and is known more for his blunt remarks and popular laughter-evoking speeches in Parliament and outside.
He has been part of NDA since 2011 after he quit the NCP-Congress alliance. He currently represents Maharashtra in the Rajya Sabha and has been a three-time Lok Sabha member.
The RPI(A) leader had last represented Pandharpur constituency in the Lok Sabha from 2004 to 2009, having been first elected to the lower house in 1998.
Mr Athawale had been openly seeking a berth in the Union government for quite some time. His induction came at a time when BJP has laid claim to the legacy of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar.
Calling himself "the fearless panther of India", the 56-year-old leader claims to have led the 'Dalit Panther Movement', a social movement for equality, justice and human rights world-wide.
Mr Athawale courted controversy when he demanded firearms for Dalits for self-defence in the backdrop of suicide by a Dalit research scholar in Hyderabad University.
An undergraduate from Agalgaon in Sangli district of Maharashtra, Mr Athawale was elected to the Maharashtra Legislative Council in 1990 and became a Cabinet minister.
Mr Athawale played a significant role in Marathwada Vidyapeeth Namantar, a Dalit movement for renaming the Marathwada University after Dr Ambedkar. He was also at the forefront of the movement for grant of Indu Mill land in Mumbai for building a memorial to Dr Ambedkar.
Mr Athawale also edited 'Bhumika', a weekly magazine in Mumbai, and has been a publisher for Parivartan Publications.
His real life theatrics saw him land the title role in Marathi film 'Anya Yacha Pratikar' and made a cameo appearance in another movie 'Joshi ki Kamble'. He also played a role in Marathi drama 'Ekach Pyala' and a few others.
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