‘Hamara Ambedkar’: Is BJP cashing in on the Dalit icon?

'Hamara Ambedkar': Is BJP cashing in on the Dalit icon?

New Delhi, Dec 6: In a packed auditorium in the BJP headquarters in Delhi that was reverberating with slogans of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” along with “Jai Bheem”, the party’s working President J.P. Nadda called Ambedkar “Ours”. Union Minister for Social Justice Thawar Chand Gehlot made Congress look like the villain and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the Jan Sangh’s founder, as the enabler, for the Dalit icon’s presence in the upper house of Parliament.

However, this appropriation of Ambedkar’s legacy seems to have two immediate goals – the ongoing Jharkhand assembly polls where Dalits constitute 11 per cent of the population and the Delhi elections early next year, where Dalits are upset over the demolition of the Ravi Das temple.

BJP’s massive Dalit outreach:
December 6 is the death anniversary of Ambedkar. All top BJP leaders including Amit Shah tweeted in the morning, followed by an event at the BJP headquarters. But this is just the culmination of a week-long initiative by the party, that started with India’s Constitution Day on November 26. On Friday, similar events were held in every single district of the country, claimed BJP’s Dalit face in the Union Cabinet – Thawar Chand Gehlot. Ten lakh leaflets that list the work done for the backward classes by the Narendra Modi government, were distributed. Half of them are in regional languages.

“Babasaheb was against Congress. No wonder that the Congress did not pay respect he deserved… Today, we have five places related to him including the one where he breathed his last, developed by this government. They are called Panchateertha. Why could earlier governments not have done it?” asks Gehlot before blatantly de-hyphenating the Dalit icon from the Congress. The leaflet that BJP is distributing, proudly claims credit for the Supreme Court recalling its direction in the March 20, 2018 verdict which had virtually diluted provisions of arrest under the SC/ST Act. BJP claims it was made possible due to the “untiring efforts” of the Modi government.

Goals – Jhharkhand & Delhi polls:
The series of events, spearheaded by the BJP’s SC Wing and its Chief Vinod Sonkar is believed to have been conceptualised at the insistence of the party’s top leadership. Sources say it has two immediate goals — Jharkhand which is in the middle of polls and has 11 per cent Dalit population and Delhi which is likely to go to polls early next year. In Delhi, a sizeable section of Dalits were angry at the demolition of the Ravi Das temple, in Delhi’s Tughlakabad area. Thousands of Dalits from Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh took to the streets on August 21 this year to protest.

The BJP hopes to undo the perception damage created in Delhi, which was steadily exploited against it by the ruling Aam Aadmi Party and appease the 11 per cent Dalits in Jharkhand where surveys predict a hung assembly.

On Thursday, Vinod Sonkar stressed that celebration of the Constitution Day was made a practice only after the BJP swept to power in 2014. While Gehlot called the Dalit icon “against Congress”, Nadda referred to Ambedkar as “hamara” (Ours). ‘Jai Bheem’, a slogan that is synonymous with Ambedkar’s followers was taken along with “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, a signature slogan of the BJP. Shah credited Narendra Modi for creating a “New India” based on “Ambedkar’s principles”.

But beyond the chants, floral tributes, presenting copy of Indian Constitution and credit-snatching, BJP may have two state polls in mind for cashing in on Ambedkar.