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Why Congress is on a mission to own Ambedkar

April 14, 2015 09:37 IST
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‘There has been a deliberate misinformation campaign about Ambedkar and the Congress and our aim is to correct that notion.’

‘Although Ambedkar had serious differences, he was part of the Congress 'dhara.’

The party plans elaborate year-long celebrations to commemorate his 125th birth anniversary next year. Kavita Chowdhury reports

A vendor sells portraits of B R Ambedkar on a pavement in New Delhi. Photograph: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters

The Congress has set its sights on owning the legacy of B R Ambedkar after suffering a gradual erosion of its Dalit vote bank. The party will kick off year-long celebrations this month to culminate with Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary in 2016.

The mission to claim the Father of the Constitution as its own will put the Congress on a collision course with the Bahujan Samaj Party, its old ally. Dismissing the BSP’s claim on Ambedkar as symbolism, the Congress will project itself as the party that implemented his vision through reservation for the scheduled castes and tribes and a law to prevent atrocities against them.

With sizeable Dalit vote banks in Bihar and Punjab, where elections are on the anvil, the Congress is attempting to draw them back to the party fold. 

Ambedkar was the first law minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet. His anniversary celebrations are the second such initiative after the Congress put up a show for Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary last year.

The party has directed state Congress units to ensure full participation for events organised on Ambedkar’s birthday on April 14 this year.  The year-long celebrations will be flagged off from Mhow in Madhya Pradesh a fortnight later.

A committee chaired by Congress President Sonia Gandhi will finalise appropriate programmes. Other members of the committee include Sushil Kumar Shinde, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ghulam Nabi Azad, P Chidambaram, Salman Khurshid, Anand Sharma and PL Punia.

Speaking to reporters after the committee met in the capital today, Shinde said, “Ambedkar does not belong to any specific community; he belongs to everyone.”

On the Bharatiya Janata Party’s intention to celebrate Ambedkar' birth anniversary, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, "Although Ambedkar had serious differences, he was part of the Congress 'dhara'. The BJP and RSS are trying to appropriate a national icon for cheap political purposes."

“There has been a deliberate misinformation campaign about Ambedkar and the Congress and our aim is to correct that notion. Ambedkar’s philosophy is in consonance with Congress thought, after all, he worked closely with Congress leaders to shape the Constitution,” K Raju, head of the Congress cell for the scheduled castes, told Business Standard.

Ambedkar and Nehru, Raju pointed out, worked on social reform by drafting the Hindu Code bill. Although the bill could not be introduced, Nehru brought in sections of that legislation through laws on property rights and marriage.

The special component plan for the scheduled castes and tribes and reservation in education are Congress government policies based on Ambedkar’s ideas for Dalit empowerment. Among the programmes the party will conduct to commemorate Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary is a seminar in Mumbai where leaders will introspect on the extent his ideas have been incorporated.

The Youth Congress and the National Students’ Union of India will reach out to the youth in colleges to spread awareness about Ambedkar’s philosophy and campaign against atrocities against the scheduled castes and tribes. The party will start a campaign of zero tolerance to discrimination.

Within Parliament, the Congress will push for introducing the long pending bill on much needed amendments to the atrocities against SC ST act. The Congress is attempting to reach out to a section that once identified with the Congress party.

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