BR Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, was at the centre of a national discourse on Thursday as politicians vied with each other to claim the Dalit icon’s legacy on his 125th birth anniversary.
He was given credit for Narendra Modi becoming the Prime Minister, for the creation of Telangana and for the country’s faith in democracy, among a host of other achievements.
The scramble by politicians to project themselves as champions of the Dalit cause comes in the midst of crucial assembly elections in West Bengal with 23.5% lower caste population and ahead of voting in Tamil Nadu with 20% scheduled caste, besides Kerala and Puducherry.
Seven more states are going to polls next year and Dalits constitute a major chunk of voters in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Modi, who went to Ambedkar’s birthplace Mhow in Madhya Pradesh, asked the Congress to “repent” for allegedly undermining the Dalit leader’s legacy for 60 years.
Listing measures taken by his government to carry forward Babasaheb’s vision, he said, “Some persons are distressed why he is doing all this…We believe that social harmony can be achieved only by following the path shown by Babasaheb. I feel proud to work at the feet of Babasaheb.”
He also credited Ambedkar for his – the son of a woman who fetched water in others’ households -- becoming the PM.
His attack on the Congress came three days after opposition leaders, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, attacked the BJP and the RSS at a meeting to mark what the party claimed was the end of yearlong celebrations on Ambedkar’s anniversary.
Rahul had attacked the Sangh Parivar for professing and practising “Manu’s ideology”, a reference to the author of Manusmiriti that sought to justify the caste system. Sonia accused the BJP and RSS for putting reservation system “under threat” and saying that those who opposed Ambedkar until now were trying to appropriate his legacy.
Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati cautioned Dalits and backwards against the BJP’s designs.
“The BJP or RSS can make any Dalit or backward the prime minister or chief minister but he cannot do anything good for his people...he will always remain a bonded labourer of the BJP or RSS,” the BSP supremo said at a meeting in Lucknow to pay homage to Ambedkar.
Mayawati said Modi has not taken action against his minister V K Singh “who made derogatory comments” against the followers of Ambedkar.
She also attacked Rahul Gandhi for “not taking cognizance” of suicides by Dalit students when his party was in power.
“Now that the Congress is out of power, the ‘yuvaraj’ (prince) is going around in states ruled by other parties and indulging in theatrics,” she said in an apparent reference to Gandhi’s visit to Hyderabad to meet students and the family of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula who committed suicide in January.
Vemula’s mother Radhika and brother Naga Chaitanya embraced Buddhism on the birth anniversary of Ambedkar, who had himself converted to the religion propagated by Buddha.
“We are against the caste system in Hinduism and have, therefore, decided to embrace Buddhism which does not have such an oppressive system of castes,” said Rohith’s brother in Mumbai in the presence of Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of the Dalit icon.
In Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh’s new capital, chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu launched year-long celebrations of the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar to make his “life and message a guiding spirit for all”. The CM also announced that his government would build a 125-ft tall statue of Ambedkar at Amaravati.
Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao laid the foundation stone for a 125-ft bronze statue of Ambedkar near the Hussain Sagar lake in Hyderabad. “We got Telangana because Ambedkar argued in the Constituent Assembly and made the Act that Centre should stand by the weak...,” Rao said.
JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar, arrest on sedition charges sparked a debate on nationalism, visited ‘Deekshabhoomi’ in Nagpur, the place where Ambedkar embraced Buddhism in 1956.