The Dis­cov­ery of BR Ambed­kar

In search of a large sup­port base, par­ties are latch­ing onto the ar­chi­tect of In­dian Con­sti­tu­tion

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

New Delhi: Few eye­brows were raised when crick­eters Sachin Ten­dulkar and Ajinkya Ra­hane ear­lier this month in­au­gu­rated a sta­di­um­namedafterBhimRaoAmbed­kar in vet­eran politi­cian and for­mer In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil chair­man Sharad Pawar’s home turf Bara­mati. Ambed­kar may not have had much to do with cricket, but over the past year politi­cians of all hues have been rush­ing to be seen to be payin­gob­ei­sance­totheDaliti­co­nand ar­chi­tectof theCon­sti­tu­tionof In­dia. From PM Modi to Congress V-P Rahul Gandhi and NCP chief Pawar to JNU stu­dents’ union pres­i­dent Kan­haiya Kumar, es­tab­lished and aspir­ing lead­ers are com­pet­ing with each other to shower en­comi­ums on the man they be­lieve will help them forgeaw­in­ning­bond­with­alarge­sec­tionof the­elec­torate.Ambed­kar­was the com­mon link among ac­tivist stu­dents af­fil­i­ated to the Ambed­kar Peri­yar Study Cir­cle at IIT Madras lastyearandtheAmbed­karS­tu­dents As­so­ci­a­tion at Hy­der­abad Cen­tral Univer­sity this year. Kumar, af­ter his re­lease from jail in a sedi­tion case, used the sym­bol­ism of colours of his meal­bowls—redand­blue—toad­vo­cate con­ver­gence be­tween com­mu­nists,whofight­e­co­nomi­cop­pres­sion, and Ambed­karites, who cam­paign against so­cial op­pres­sion of Dal­its.

For­mu­chof thep­astyear,abat­tleof one-up­man­ship has been rag­ing be­tween the rul­ing BJP and op­po­si­tion Congress over Ambed­kar’s legacy. When Modi de­cided to pay spe­cial att e nt i on to pre pa­ra­tions for Ambed­kar’s 125th birth an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions and con­sti­tuted a com­mit­tee for the pur­pose, the Congress re­spond­ed­by­set­tin­gupit­sown­panel chaired­by­par­ty­chief So­ni­a­Gandhi.

Since then Modi has par­tic­i­pated in 10 events di­rectly re­lated to Ambed­kar through the year, while Rahul has par­tic­i­pated in two big eve n t s — f i r s t by v i s i t i n g Ambed­kar’s birthplace Mhow in MP in June last year and later at the cul­mi­na­tion of Congress’ cel­e­bra­tions at Nag­pur on April 11 this year. “Ambed­kar and the Congress were the first to re­fute Manu’s ide­ol­ogy by mak­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion. Ambed­kar faced dis­crim­i­na­tion be­cause of this ide­ol­ogy. But the RSS and BJP sup­port this ide­ol­ogy and work to strengthen it,” Rahul said at a Congress rally in Nag­pur.

Modi, on his part, has ac­cused the Congress of not stand­ing with Ambed­kar when he re­signed from Jawa­har­lal Nehru’s Cabi­net over Hindu Code Bill. On Thurs­day, Modi launched a veiled at­tack at the Congress for ig­nor­ing Ambed­kar. Speak­ing at a func­tion in Mhow, he said: “Sev­eral govern­ments came, but we got the hon­our to build a me­mo­rial for Ambed­kar. Did we stop any­body from build­ing one for 60 years? When we are hon­our­ing Ambed­kar, you are cry­ing hoarse.”

So­nia had ear­lier sought to high­light­thatit­wastheCon­gressthat­put Ambed­kar in charge of draft­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion. But it has had an un­easy re­la­tion­ship with Ambed­kar’s legacy. While Nehru had in­ducted Ambed­kar in his first govern­ment at the in­sis­tence of Ma­hatma Gandhi, they parted ways later. The Congress ap­peared more com­fort­able with its ownDal­itlead­erBabuJagji­vanRam, who­didn’tde­sertIndi­raGand­hieven when the old guard re­belled against her in 1969. But the Janata Party got Ram­intoits­foldas­deputyPM,aware as it was of the need to woo Dal­its for its anti-Indira elec­tion­eer­ing. Wean­ing Dal­its away from the Congress has al­ways been one of the prin­ci­pal strate­gies of any po­lit­i­cal for­ma­tion that has sought to re­place it. Pawar was the one to try this for the first time when he broke away from the Congress and formed his govern­ment in Ma­ha­rash­tra in the late 1970s. Pawar, dur­ing his first term as CM is cred­ited with get­ting Ma­ha­rash­tra assem­bly to com­pile the­work­sof Ambed­kari­none­place.

Af­ter Ram’s demise in late ’80s, the Janata Dal govern­ment lost lit­tle time­towooDal­its. While­sev­er­al­fac­tion­sinMa­ha­rash­trafought­to­claim Ambed­kar’s legacy, it was the VP Singh-led Janata Dal govern­ment that set the ball in mo­tion a com­pe­ti­tion to ap­pro­pri­ate Ambed­kar in the Hindi heart­land. In 1990, the Singh gov­ern­men­thad­madeit­sown­claim on the legacy by award­ing Bharat Ratna to Ambed­kar posthu­mously. SP chief Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav, too, tried to wean away Dal­its from the Congress in UP. In his first term as CM, he got the road in front of the U P a s s e mbl y n a med a f t e r Ambed­kar. But Ya­dav proved lit­tle match for the ag­gres­sive Dalit pol­i­tics of BSP lead­ers Kan­shi­ram and Mayawati­inthes­tate.Inother­states, the Dal­its con­tin­ued to con­sti­tute a more con­tested sup­port base.

When­theBJPwass­low­lye­merg­ing as na­tional al­ter­na­tive af­ter the JanataDal,it­tootried­toen­dear­it­self totheDal­its.It­waswith­thisob­jec­tive in mind that the party’s ide­o­log­i­cal men­tor, RSS, pre­vailed on its lead­er­ship­inthe1990s­to­goin­fora­post-poll al­liance with the BSP in UP. With the BSP grow­ing stronger with ev­ery shot at power, the BJP had lit­tle op­tion but to reach out to the com­mu­nity it­self. While jour­nal­ist-turned-politi­cian Arun Shourie, who was min­is­ter in the first BJP-led govern­ment at the Cen­tre, crit­i­cised Ambed­kar in his book ‘Wor­ship­ping FalseGods’,theRSS­did­not­sub­scribe to his view. In early 2000s, RSS’ Dat­topant Then­gadi crit­i­cised Shourie’s cri­tique of Ambed­kar.

WiththeBJPseek­ing­to­con­sol­i­date its po­si­tion af­ter Modi pro­pelled it to ma­jor­ity in 2014, it ap­pears to have latched onto Ambed­kar to pro­vide it with a large enough sup­port base, forc­ing its ri­vals to com­pete vig­or­ously for the same slice of the pie.

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