Ahead of Ambedkar Jayanti, parties draw battle lines to woo Dalits
As political parties in Uttar Pradesh vie for the coveted Dalit vote bank, battle lines have been clearly drawn ahead of the 127th birth anniversary of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar on April 14.
Last week, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) government ordered correction in Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar’s name by introducing ‘Ramji’ as the middle name in all official correspondence.
The next day, the government directed that all offices would have a portrait of Dr Ambedkar.
Even before the controversy over the Dalit leader’s name could settle, vandalisation of Ambedkar’s statues in different parts of the state made the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) step up attack against the BJP.
As Dr Ambedkar’s birth anniversary draws closer, all the three parties have announced elaborate programmes to celebrate the occasion.
The BJP has decided to hold Dalit Yatras across the state and all the MPs and MLAs of the party have been asked to organise events in their constituencies to mark the occasion, a BJP leader familiar with the developments said.
He said Ambedkar Mahasabha, a non-political organisation considered to be anti-BSP, would honour chief minister Yogi Adityanath with the title of ‘Dalit mitra’ (friend of Dalits).
A BSP leader said party president Mayawati was planning a show of strength at Ambedkar memorial on April 14. “She will address the party supporters after paying obeisance to Ambedkar,” he said.
According to BSP leaders, Mayawati has asked the party cadre to celebrate the birth anniversary of Ambedkar with gaiety in all the districts and also gather in larger numbers at Ambedkar memorial in Lucknow for the show of strength.
Akhilesh Yadav has also asked his party leaders and workers to hold programmes at public places to mark the occasion.
Political analyst and former head of the department of political science at Lucknow University Prof SK Dwivedi said, “The BJP has usurped Mayawati’s Dalit vote bank – first in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and then again in 2017 UP assembly polls. But when the Dalit-backward-Muslim votes went to the SP-BSP alliance in Phulpur and Gorakhpur LS by-polls, the BJP is obviously wary.”
“The BJP intends to fragment Mayawati’s vote bank. The RSS-BJP idea of considering Dalits as Hindus had worked in the elections. It is under this idea that the BJP government has made the move of including ‘Ramji’ in Ambedkar’s name,” said Prof Dwivedi.
Both Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav have attacked Yogi on the issue of name change.
“It is an attempt to gain cheap publicity. It is a political gimmick and an attempt to alter the popular image of Ambedkar. People do not write the full name of Gandhi or Narendra Modi, then why there is so much controversy on the name of Bhimrao Ambedkar,” she asked.
Akhilesh said though the BJP was invoking Ambedkar, atrocities on Dalits were on the rise.
“They (BJP) are doing what they are best at – rhetoric instead of real development work. They are invoking Ambedkar but incidents of atrocities on Dalits have increased. Vandalisation of Ambedkar’s statues has been the maximum under BJP rule,” he said.
Dalit scholar RK Gautam said the political parties were trying to claim Ambedkar’s legacy for vote bank.
“The BJP is trying to spread its base in Dalit and backward communities while the BSP is trying to maintain its hold on Dalit votes. Both the parties are invoking Ambedkar to woo Dalits and backward communities,” he said.
However, vandalisation of Dr Ambedkar’s statues has sent the government into a tizzy. After statues were damaged in Allahabad and Siddharthnagar, the government directed the state police to protect the statues.
Additional director general of police (ADG), law and order, Anand Kumar said the superintendents of police of all the districts had been asked to maintain vigil and ensure adequate security of statues in various districts but it would be a tough task for the police.
According to a survey carried out by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 1993 on the direction of the party’s founder Kanshi Ram, it was estimated that there were 9,000 statues of Ambedkar in various villages, towns and cities at that time.
Presently, the number of Ambedkar’s statues in the state could well be touching over a lakh, a BSP leader said.
Monday’s nationwide Dalit agitation over the alleged dilution of the SC/ST Act has emerged as yet another issue for the parties to fight for Dalit votes.