April 14, 2010, 9:02 AM IST
The War of the Garlands
By Tripti Lahiri
The next elections are far away, but on the birthday of Bhimrao Ramji
Ambedkar, the country's political parties will be fighting for his
legacy in a place named — what else? — Ambedkar Nagar.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati Kumari attends a prayer in front
of an Ambedkar statue. Some battles are fought with bullets. This one,
we're pretty sure, will be fought with garlands.
Mr. Ambedkar, a graduate of Columbia University who is the father of
India' constitution, was also a member of the ostracized group at the
bottom of India's caste hierarchy once known as "untouchables" but
called "Dalits," which shaped his thinking on rights and justice and
made him an icon for the community.
"The best gift which he has given to the country is the respect for
the individual," said Vijay Bahadur Singh, a minister of parliament
from the Dalit-supported Bahujan Samaj Party that rules Uttar Pradesh,
where Ambedkar Nagar is located.
Mr. Singh said his party, headed by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister
Mayawati Kumari, will mark the day with speeches at local headquarters
about Mr. Ambedkar's ideals as well as protests against legislation
drafted by the governing Congress Party to reserve a third of
parliamentary seats for women, which Mr. Singh called
European Pressphoto Agency
Rahul Gandhi addresses a press conference during a January state visit
to Bhopal, India. On the same day and at the same place, Rahul Gandhi,
scion of the Gandhi political dynasty and minister of parliament from
Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, will be there to flag off Congress's
celebrations, party members confirmed. Newspapers have reported that
Mr. Gandhi will send traveling parties to different parts of India's
biggest state to talk about the party's history.
"Rahul Gandhi is attempting to take the battle into the BSP camp. They
are hoping to storm the citadel," said political analyst Mahesh
Rangarajan, who frequently writes on Uttar Pradesh politics. "Whether
they will succeed is a different matter altogether."
Mr. Gandhi has been credited with helping his party dramatically
improve its showing in the state in the 2009 national elections, and
his visits to Dalit households for cups of tea and slumber parties
have been widely covered by the press.
The Bahujan Samaj Party is unhappy about the scheduling.
"If they are so enamored with Dr. Ambedkar they would have made a
program not clashing with our program," said Mr. Singh. "He's going to
garland the statue of Ambedkarji on the 14th, and we are having a
meeting in the same place. Same place, same statue. There is bound to
be a law and order problem."
Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who is organizing
Wednesday's celebrations, could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Rangarajan said that a serious political struggle was going on
between the two parties over how best "to get to a just society."
"I think it's a fight for a legacy and it's a fight for the future —
centrist liberalism versus a formation that that sees itself as
socially radical," said Mr. Rangarajan.
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