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'Still guessing why BJP changed its hearts on Dalits'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
February 05, 2016 10:51 IST
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'We were at war with the BJP in the 1990s. We were burning down each other's offices then. I don't want that to happen again.'

 Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the memorial in London dedicated to Dr B R Ambedkar. Also seen are Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Republican Party of India leader Ramdas Athavale. Photographs: Press Information Bureau

In the late 1980s, when the Congress-led Maharashtra government published Riddles of Hinduism, a book written by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, there was a hue and cry over it, led primarily by supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party who wanted the book to be banned. The BJP said Riddles of Hinduism was hurting Hindu sentiments.

In 2016, when the BJP government led by Devendra Fadnavis approached Dr Ambedkar's grandson, Prakash Ambedkar requesting permission to republish Ambedkar's work on his birth anniversary on April 14, he was taken aback.

"We were literally at war with the BJP in the 1990s. We were burning down each other's offices then. That was the situation. I don't want that to happen again," Prakash Ambedkar told Rediff.com.

Prakash Ambedkar, below, left, spoke to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com

Why have you refused to share the copyright of B R Ambedkar's books with the BJP government?

I have not refused the copyright. There was a controversy on some of his works which the Shiv Sena and BJP had opposed earlier.

So you are not refusing permission, then?

I am not refusing permission. I want a guarantee that his works will be published.

For the Congress it did not matter because they said they will print (Dr Ambedkar's work) as it is.

Now that the copyright has expired (after 25 years with the Maharashtra government) and it is back with me, the BJP wants it, but I am asking them for a guarantee that it will be published. That';s all.

Did you have a bad experience with the BJP regarding Dr Ambedkar's works?

They had opposed some of his publications.

Dr B R Ambedkar's book, Riddles in HinduismWhat was the objection?

They had said earlier that it should be banned and stated it should not be published by the state government.

Why do you think there has been a change in heart?

That is what they have to speak up on. I am not their spokesperson. If they have a change of heart over Ambedkar, then they must speak about it.

What is your opinion about how the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh)-BJP regard Dr Ambedkar?

I have no opinion about anybody. I go by experience.

What is it about Dr Ambedkar's books that they are so popular even today?

They are very relevant. His thoughts have not become outdated.

Is that the reason that you did not share the copyright?

I had given to the copyright to the government of Maharashtra. They had published it for the last 25 years.

What was the objection by the BJP to Dr Ambedkar's books?

There was literally a war with them. (We were) burning down each other's offices then. I don't want that to happen again. People will criticise me because I had led the agitation at that time.

You are referring to Riddles of Hinduism?

Yes.

Has the BJP government agreed to publish the book?

They have not agreed yet. They want the publishing rights. I am ready to give it, but they must give me a guarantee that his works will be published.

The Maharashtra government may want some selected works to be published.

Let me tell you, I am blank. Nobody has come and spoken to me. It was only the education secretary of Maharashtra who spoke to me and I put across the same thing.

Thawar Chand Gehlot, (the Union minister for social justice and empowerment), spoke to me regarding one of the issues and I told him the same thing.

Prakash AmbedkarDid you ask Mr Gehlot which books they want to publish?

No. I told him this is my basic concern. You address the basic concern and I am with you. He said he will get back to me.

What about the BJP's change of heart about the Dalit community? Has the BJP become a pro-Dalit party?

The reasons why they have changed have not come out. Nobody has been able to judge that. They have not spoken out.

Do you think it is because of the Dalit votebank?

We are still guessing what made (the BJP) change their hearts for the Dalits. We are not yet able to grasp what exactly they want to do.

After Rohith Vemula's suicide, some people accused the Modi government of being an anti-Dalit government.

I will not say it is an anti-Dalit government. There was certain sensitivity needed. Modi had tears in his eyes at the Lucknow programme (where he broke his silence on the Vemula suicide).

There should have been some action on his behalf. At least inviting the mother and brother for a discussion to New Delhi, taking into consideration their side of the story and asking what they feel and what needs to be done.

By spending 10 minutes with them, the issue would have got resolved instead of becoming so big. He failed to do so.

Now he is doing it, but it has no meaning.

You think the prime minister did not act swiftly after Rohith's death?

He did not act fast and there is no action now. What they are asking is very simple. They are asking that the vice-chancellor who acted against Vemula must be suspended. What circumstances led to the suicide should be investigated.

If you cannot meet these demands you cannot claim that you are sensitive to the common man's (cause).

MAIN iMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the memorial in London dedicated to Dr B R Ambedkar. Also seen are Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Republican Party of India leader Ramdas Athavale. Photographs: Press Information Bureau

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