Narendra Modi claims Ambedkar legacy as Mayawati cautions Dalits

Prime Minister targets Congress, launches scheme to develop villages.

Updated - November 17, 2021 01:56 am IST

Published - April 15, 2016 01:33 am IST - NEW DELHI

Rohith Vemula’s mother Radhika and brother Chiatanya embraced Buddhism at Dr. Ambedkar’s house in Mumbai on Thursday. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Rohith Vemula’s mother Radhika and brother Chiatanya embraced Buddhism at Dr. Ambedkar’s house in Mumbai on Thursday. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

The 125th birth anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar on Thursday saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BSP leader Mayawati compete for the legacy of India’s first Law Minister and Dalit icon.

On a day high on symbolism, Mr. Modi addressed a rally at Mhow in Madhya Pradesh, Dr. Ambedkar’s birthplace, while Ms. Mayawati addressed a large gathering in Lucknow. Congress president Sonia Gandhi too made a statement, bracketing him with Congress stalwarts like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel.

With Punjab, having the highest proportion of Dalits among Indian States (32 per cent), and Uttar Pradesh (21 per cent) going to the polls next year, the Dalit issue has acquired centrality in the political discourse. Dalits constitute 16 per cent of India’s population.

Mr. Modi launched Gramodaya Se Bharatodaya Abhiyan (Development of the Nation through Development of the Village), underlining that the growth of purchasing power in villages, rather than growth in cities or having some billionaires, would help develop India, thus seeking to project a “pro-poor” image in an apparent response to Opposition charges that his government was “pro-corporate”.

He sought to show this as part of Dr. Ambedkar’s vision for India. He also showcased the Jan Dhan Yojana and the plan to offer the poor LPG connections as part of his government’s “pro-poor” vision, rejecting the Congress’s “pro-poor” pitch as mere sloganeering.

Accusing the Congress of “undermining” the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar, Mr. Modi sought to know why the Congress had not developed places related to him when it was in power for several decades.

“Some persons are distressed why Modi is doing all this. This is a matter of our dedication and conviction. We believe that social harmony can be achieved only by following the path shown by Babasaheb. I feel proud to work at the feet of Babasaheb,” he said.

Ms. Mayawati cautioned Dalits against the BJP’s “designs”, saying that its leaders would never really work for Dalits, as they would remain “bonded workers of the RSS”.

“The BJP or the RSS can make any Dalit or backward the Prime Minister or Chief Minister but he cannot do anything good for his people... He will always remain a bonded labourer of the BJP or the RSS,” Ms. Mayawati said. “This is evident in the government of Narendra Modi who does not tire of saying he is an OBC... Leave alone doing anything for his caste, he has not done anything for tea-sellers though he has had free tea from them.”

Mr. Modi and the BJP’s newly appointed Uttar Pradesh president, Keshav Prasad Maurya, are OBCs.

In an oblique reference to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement months back calling for a review of the reservation system, Ms. Mayawati hit out at the Prime Minister for paying lip service to reservation but not taking action against or censuring those in the BJP and the RSS questioning it. She added that she would consider taking to the streets if reservation was sought to be ended.

Ms. Gandhi called Dr. Ambedkar one of the greatest icons of modern India. “Dr. Ambedkar’s contribution is spread across every field of national development. His faith in democracy, which he shared with Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and other stalwarts of the freedom movement, is one of his proud legacies to our country,” she said.

However, the Congress came under attack from Ms. Mayawati. She hit out at Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for ignoring the suicides of Dalit students when his party was in power.

“Now that the Congress is out of power, yuvaraj [the prince] is going to States ruled by other parties and indulging in theatrics,” she said, referring to the suicide of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad.

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