BJP, Congress in race to ‘own’ Dalit icon

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April 9, 2015

After Vallabhbhai Patel, B.R. Ambedkar is the next national icon over whose legacy the Congress and the BJP are set for a tug of war. With Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary year beginning on April 14, the two parties are drawing up plans to hold year-long celebrations.

April 9, 2015

After Vallabhbhai Patel, B.R. Ambedkar is the next national icon over whose legacy the Congress and the BJP are set for a tug of war. With Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary year beginning on April 14, the two parties are drawing up plans to hold year-long celebrations.

The basis for the BJP’s claim to Ambedkar’s legacy is a project of its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which aims at presenting him as a nationalist Hindu despite his adoption of Buddhism with five lakh followers at Nagpur in 1956 and his stiff opposition to Brahminical dominance.

“Appropriating national history is not new and Dalit votes have always been important,” Sudha Pai, Political Scientist and Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said. “These parties feel that the Dalits are no longer attracted only by identity and therefore their votes are up for grabs.”

While the Congress has constituted a committee under its president, Sonia Gandhi, and vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, to form plans to commemorate the year, the BJP is organising a commemoration on April 14 at all district-level offices of the party. The RSS’s mouthpiece, Panchjanya, and its English version, The Organiser, are coming out with commemorative collectors’ editions on Dr. Ambedkar that will be released in New Delhi on the birth anniversary day by its general secretary, Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi, and Minister of Social Justice Thawarchand Gehlot. The Minister announced in December that the government had set aside Rs. 100 crore for a memorial.

The Congress committee will meet on April 13 and draw up the commemoration plans for the year. This is expected to be Mr. Gandhi’s first major engagement after his return from a seven-week sabbatical. The Pradesh Congress committees have been directed to observe the birth anniversary, a function that was earlier performed by the State Scheduled Caste department of the party, K. Raju, convener of the committee, told The Hindu.

Years of efforts by RSS to appropriate legacy of Ambedkar

Over the past few years, senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leaders have often referred to B.R. Ambedkar as a nationalist Hindu.

Sangh joint general secretary Krishna Gopal wrote a 52-page pamphlet on Dr. Ambedkar that talked about the “deep friendship” between Ambedkar and RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said at an RSS meeting in Unao last month that Ambedkar believed in the ideology of the Sangh.

“Biggest challenge”

As for the Congress, K. Raju, convener of the party’s Ambedkar birth anniversary celebration committee, admitted: “Our biggest challenge is to clear the misconceptions about Ambedkar and the Congress. His ideology has been projected as antagonistic to the Congress, whereas it was a partnership between the two.”

“In a few weeks’ time, the party will hold a commemoration at Mhow [Ambedkar’s birthplace] in Madhya Pradesh which will be presided over by the party president or vice-president,” he said.

Mr. Raju said the Congress did not want to confine Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy to that of a Dalit icon. Neither does the RSS.

Manmohan Vaidya, All India Prachaar Pramukh for the Sangh, said: “Ambedkar is a national leader not just of a particular group. The complete Ambedkar needs to be brought to the people and efforts will continue to be made in that direction.”


Courtesy: The Hindu