Will Maharashtra govt’s ₹800cr plan to restore Ambedkar memorials woo Dalits?
Eye on 2019 polls: Amid incidents of violence against members of the Dalit community, the state has already announced the makeover, preservation of historically significant sites linked to AmbedkarUpdated: Apr 02, 2018 17:04 IST
Ahead of the 2019 general elections, state governments seem to be competing with each other to woo Dalit voters in the name of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. While the Uttar Pradesh government announced it would use Dr Ambedkar’s full name in all its records, which means including his middle name ‘Ramji’, the Maharashtra government has rolled out a slew of projects at 39 sites and structures that are historically linked to him.
Amid incidents of violence against members of the Dalit community in parts of the country, the state has already announced the makeover, preservation of historically significant sites or construction of memorials — the most important is at Indu Mills in Mumbai, which will cost the government Rs709 crore — and the restoration of Ambedkar’s London residence, which will cost Rs35 crore. The government also allocated Rs5 crore to maintain the bungalow this year.
Spending on repairs and renovation at other memorials, culturally important to the Scheduled Caste community, is expected to cost the state exchequer around Rs50 crore.
With elections approaching, caste equations have become politically significant in the state as the Buddhist population constitutes 5.81% of its population (more than 6.5 million people). The population of the SC community in the state is 1.2 crore, according to the population census conducted in 2011.
The social justice department of the state government is renovating 28 places in the first phase, including Dr Ambedkar’s bungalow at Talegaon Dabhade, 27km from Pune. In the second phase, 11 other places would be taken up for repair and renovation, said Dinesh Waghmare, secretary of the department.
Some of the other places include Deeksha Bhoomi at Nagpur where Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, Sant Rohidas Bhavan in Mumbai, Bharatiya Baudhh Bhavan, Pune;Budhh Bhavan, Kalmeshwar (Nagpur); Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar auditorium and meditation centre in Thane; development works at Naigaon village in Satara district of western Maharashtra, which is the birth place of social reformer Savitribai Phule, among others.
The expenditure on each is between Rs50 lakh to Rs2 crore. The decision to renovate these sites was taken in 2016. However, funds were allocated last year. The government is expected to complete work in the next five years, Waghmare said.
Former minister and newly appointed chairman of the Scheduled Caste department of the All India Congress Committee (AICC), Nitin Raut, while lashing out at the government, termed the decision a political move. “The state government believes that by making monuments it can woo the community. But the fact is Dr Ambedkar wanted to make Dalits self-reliant. Today, students of the backward classes are not getting scholarships. For the past four years, government recruitments have been frozen depriving the youths from the community from their right of jobs. The government is spending only monuments,” Raut said.
Madhav Bhandari, state BJP spokesperson, said, “Our government had to take up the renovation of these monuments and sites because the Congress-led government did nothing during its regime. If they believe this is a political move then that is a reflection of their faulty mindset,” Bhandari said.
Social justice minister Rajkumar Badole was not available for comment.