New Delhi: On the occasion of the 125th birth anniversary of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar, the BJP and the Congress seem to be engaged in a battle to claim his legacy.
Coinciding with Ambedkar Jayanti, the BJP has strategically planned a workers’ meet in Patna that will be addressed by Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh.
In fact, on Monday, the Union Minister attended an event – organized by an NGO – to encourage people to break caste barriers and end untouchability.
Though not a party program, the event fit in well in BJP’s larger political plan to woo dalits, especially in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In the Hindi heartland, the party is trying hard to move beyond their traditional support base of forward castes like Brahmins and Vaish Samaj (traders). Asked about his presence at the event, Mr Singh simply said: “Untouchability should end.”
In fact, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS has planned a special edition of their magazine – The Organiser – on Dr Ambedkar’s life.
Another BJP Dalit leader, Udit Raj, will also launch a special membership drive for scheduled castes. And later this month, Prime Minister Modi will lay the foundation for an international centre for social justice in the memory of Dr Ambedkar.
So is the BJP trying to appropriate the legacy of Dr Ambedkar? “It’s not about politics. Ambedkar was a national icon and does not belong to any party as such,” said Meenakshi Lekhi, BJP MP from New Delhi.
But BJP’s Ambedkar plans are significant as it wants to associate with national icons of the freedom movement that move beyond the Nehru-Gandhi legacy. So whether it is Sardar Patel or Ambedkar, the party is clearly keen to associate with stalwarts who may have been overshadowed during successive Congress regimes.
Meanwhile, the Congress’ plans are relatively low key but party president Sonia Gandhi asked former Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, a dalit himself, to visit Mhow in Madhya Pradesh – birthplace of Dr Ambedkar. “It will be a year-long celebration. Will start at Mhow and end in Nagpur,” said Mr Shinde.
Scholars say political parties competing to claim Dr Ambedkar’s legacy will actually help correcting history. Narendra Jadhav, former Planning Commission member and author of The Intellectual Biography of Ambedkar told MEDIA: “He wasn’t a just a messiah for the Dalits but a great national leader and icon. That role has not been properly acknowledged. If, by appropriating his legacy, the BJP and the Congress give his due, that’s something welcome.”