It's unusual when BJP leadership and the RSS mouthpiece Organiser act in tandem. The situations have to be compelling to make a public display of their meeting of minds. Commemoration of 125th birth anniversary of BR Ambedkar has provided that occasion to indicate that the Modi government and its ideological fountainhead are thinking alike on arguably the biggest social political Dalit icon of modern times. They are also making fresh attempts to revive what they earlier called social engineering.
The latest issue of Organiser has BR Ambedkar on its cover, with the title, "Ultimate Unifier, Dr Ambedkar is erroneously projected as divisive figure by certain vested interests but recognition of his contributions will finally prove to a unifier for Bharat." The publication of 17 April issue coincides with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Ambedkar's native place Mhow in Madhya Pradesh on Thursday to pay respect on his 125th birth anniversary. Modi government has already announced that it will be hosting various programmes for the next 11 days at village, block and district levels in different parts of the country.
All aimed at singular purpose — preserve and perpetuate iconic status to Ambedkar, also to "Jai Bhim" greetings, at least during the period.
Some could take it as a mere symbolism by Modi government. But in politics, symbolism do matter to create a certain perception about a political leader and about a party or parties concerned. The Congress for last seven decades remained focussed on Gandhi-Nehru family and conveniently forgot other national icons. The BJP-RSS, which did not have any icon of its own, with exception of a surviving but virtually mute Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has been attempting to appropriate icons outside of Nehru-Gandhi family like Sardar Patel, Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, BR Ambedkar and few others.
Ambedkar stands apart from the rest because he has a demi-God status among Dalits and has a sizeable following across India, sufficient to tilt electoral balance in several regions. Kanshi Ram and Mayawati used Amedkar's statues and perceived legacy well to emerge as a formidable political force in politically important Uttar Pradesh and mark its presence in some other parts of the country.
It's now Narendra Modi's turn to project himself as ultimate champion of Ambedkar's legacy and as some kind of messiah to Dalit social and economic advancement cause. In last parliamentary elections BSP couldn't win even a single seat in UP and the BJP won 73 out of 80 seats from the state. That perhaps has made Modi to put his focus on Dalit and its biggest icon. The community, after all accounts to huge number of votes, varying from one-seventh to one-fifth in different states. Ambedkar's hardships and his conflict with Nehru and Congress has often been highlighted by the top BJP leaders. In next eight-nine months the BJP will face a huge political test in UP, in a super high stake assembly elections. It's anybody's guess as to why Modi and his party has taken so much fancy on a person, titled to be architect of Indian Constitution.
By talking about Ambedkar and his contribution, Modi is essentially talking about Dalit pride and confidence. The term "social engineering", has for long been used by the BJP and RSS. In year 2000 the BJP leadership under Vajpayee-Advani dispensation experimented with Bangaru Laxman, a Dalit, by making him party president. Bangaru fell victim to Tehalka expose. Even then the BJP would claim to have highest number of Dalit and tribal MPs in its fold. Neither Modi nor BJP president Amit Shah uses the term social engineering but are vigorously pursuing the same in states. Few days back when Shah appointed five state party chiefs, it was apparent that the BJP was actively wooing non-Yadav OBCs and Dalits. Out of five state party chiefs, three were OBCs, one Dalit and one tribal. The BJP is trying to claim that theirs is the party which cares for Dalits and other marginalised sections of society.
The BJP and the RSS are on same page on issue of social engineering, whether or not they like to use that term any longer. The Organiser's cover story on Ambedkar providing glue for nation building, written by Ramesh Patange says, "Our nation was a victim of Muslim aggression and ruled by foreign rulers time and again. This political slavery was analysed in the phase of renaissance in various ways, especially in Maharashtra. Agarkar, Lokhitvadi, Bhandarkar, Telang, Mahatma Phule, etc was the first tradition while Justice Ranade, GK Gokhale, Tilak, etc was the other. Dr Babasaheb's analysis is different from all of them. He said, `If untouchables would not have been deprived of weapons, this nation would not have been ruled by the foreigners.' A person born in an untouchable community was disconnected from the national life and were the victim of the Muslim aggression. Many from these communities embraced the other religion on their own. They never felt that they also have a role to play in the nation building.''
The Sangh Parivar is attempting for long attempt is to integrate Dalits in broad Hindutava brigade.
Modi's thrust on "Stand Up India" program and blessing 'Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI)' to promote job creation and entrepreneurship among members of this underprivileged community has its own significance. The DICCI website opens with a series of banner pictures of Modi participation in its programs. Modi had also began his much hyped Swachh Bharat campaign from a Dalit basti in New Delhi and had picked up long broom generally used by safai karamcharis.
Incidentally, Modi launched Stand Up India program from Noida in UP on birth anniversary of another dailt icon Babu Jagjivan Ram. It didn't matter to him whether Jagjivan Ram had for better part of his life remained associated with Congress.
Besides these, it would be interesting to note the sheer number of programs which Modi conceived or participated to restore or lift glory of BR Ambedkar. Some of them are as follows:
• In December last year, Modi, released two commemorative coins Ambedkar. The coins "Rs 10" and "Rs 125" denomination, were issued on the 60th Mahaparinirvan Divas of Dalit icon.
• In November, last year Modi along with Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis acquired and inaugurated Ambedkar memorial in London. The idea was to transform the three storied 2050 sq ft property on King Henry's Road in London where Ambedkar lived in London into an international memorial cum research centre.
• Later in same month, Modi took the initiative to commemorate first Constitution Day on 26 November and dedicate first two days of Winter session of Parliament to remember contribution of framers of Indian Constitution. Needless to say the entire, debate, which for a change was rich in content, revolved round Ambedkar and Modi using his own speech, with his gifted oratorical skills to highlight Amedkar's contribution and take a dig at Congress for completely forgetting his legacy. The BSP chief Mayawati struggled hard to make her presence felt in Rajya Sabha. She didn't have anyone in Lok Sabha.
• In October, 2015 Modi, visited Chaitya Bhoomi in Mumbai to pay respects to Ambedkar and lay foundation stone for a memorial in his name.
• In March, this year at Ambedkar memorial lecture, Modi attempted to draw a parallel between his some of his government¹s initiatives and Ambedkar's vision. "Wherever we have got the opportunity to serve, we have taken decisions out of shraddha (respect) for Dr. Ambedkar." He likened Ambedkar with Martin Luther King Jr, both voices of marginalised sections of their native countries.
• Exactly a year ago, Modi had began Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary celebrations with laying a foundation stone for BR Ambedkar International Centre 15, Janpath, New Delhi (incidentally in close proximity of 10 Janpath, Sonia Gandhi's official residence) at an estimated cost of around Rs 200 crore. What Modi had then said incidentally finds a resonance in Organiser cover story on Ambedkar: "Babasaheb united society, and India must make sure that the whole world recognizes his immense contribution to mankind. He represented a combination of Samata (equality) and Mamata (motherly love), which brought about Samrasta (social harmony)."