Jai Bhim! - (11-04-2010)
Immortal visionary: Ambedkar still inspires countless Dalits across
India / Photo by Sanjay Ahlawat
BJP spearheads campaign for a grand memorial at Ambedkar's house in Delhi
By Kallol Bhattacherjee
26 Alipore Road is too quiet to be an important political address in
Delhi. Apart from the silence, the unkept lawns and the general look
of desolation tell a tale of neglect. Those who come to visit this
house near the Delhi Assembly and the Delhi University campus can be
heard murmuring about its deplorable state.
It was here that Bhim Rao Ambedkar lived in his final days. It was
here that he worked on the Constitution. More importantly for his
followers, it was here that he breathed his last. Fifty-four years
after his death, his followers are demanding a grand memorial on the
plot. Cutting across party lines, Ambedkar followers have come
together for this cause.
Predictably, around the silent house on Alipore Road, a lot of
politics has begun targeting the United Progressive Alliance.
Intriguingly, the movement acquired force a few days after the death
of anti-Congress stalwart and RSS patriarch Nanaji Deshmukh on
February 27. At a meeting in New Delhi's Constitution Club, to
remember Nanaji's contribution to the Indian democracy, Indresh
Gajbhiye, BJP Dalit leader from Madhya Pradesh, spoke about having a
suitable monument at 26 Alipore Road.
Soon, what should have been the concern of the Bahujan Samaj Party was
hijacked by the BJP. So much so that a part of the discussion about
how to go about the political agitation regarding the house was also
carried out at the Deendayal Research Institute (Deendayal Shodh
Sansthan, of which Nanaji was the founder) when Gajbhiye arrived there
a day later to discuss Ambedkar's legacy with some friends. It was
clear that most of this mobilisation around Ambedkar's house was to be
tinged with an anti-Congress flavour.
"It is time we ask why was Ambedkar's body flown out of Delhi to
Mumbai by Nehru? Every great leader was cremated in Delhi. But
Ambedkar was cremated in Mumbai. It was a move by Nehru to curtail the
stature of Ambedkar at the national stage," Gajbhiye said, underlining
that Delhi should have its Ambedkar landmark before the next general
Dalit activists have identified four pilgrimage centres related to
Ambedkar. The first is at Mhow, his birthplace, and the second at
Chaityabhoomi on Dadar beach where he was cremated. The third is the
famous Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur where Ambedkar embraced Buddhism. The
fourth, according to Gajbhiye, is 26 Alipore Road. According to him,
Mayawati tried unsuccessfully to hijack the Ambedkar legacy, which
belongs to all Dalits cutting across party lines. "People are
gravitating towards the last resting place of Babasaheb Ambedkar
because they are tired of the bankruptcy of Dalit politics which is
focused on personalities," Gajbhiye said.
The leadership of the Ambedkar house campaign has been quietly usurped
by the BJP. This, however, did not happen overnight. The BJP's
pro-Dalit symbolic politics has been on for quite some time. The party
chose Nagpur as the venue of its 2009 national executive and national
council meetings. Given the presence of Deekshabhoomi in the city, the
meeting acquired a latent Ambedkarite colour. To this was added some
symbolic gestures made by the then BJP president Rajnath Singh. On his
way to Nagpur, Rajnath went to Mhow and was welcomed by Gajbhiye, who
took him to Ambedkar's birthplace. "These symbolic gestures brought
the party close to the Dalits," said Gajbhiye, who is grooming himself
as the tallest Dalit leader in the saffron party.
After Ambedkar's death, his house in Delhi was taken over by the
Jindals who carried out renovations. Growing pressure from the NDA
government forced them to transfer ownership of the house to the
Centre. According to Dalit thinker Chandra Bhan Prasad, the Centre has
never been comfortable in dealing with Ambedkar's revolutionary
aspects and this has reflected in the maintenance of places associated
"The house is not properly maintained and the belongings of Ambedkar
are not properly kept for viewing," said Udit Raj, a Dalit leader.
"Compared to memorials of Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the last
resting place of Ambedkar is a shame for anyone interested in his
vision of a casteless India," he said.
Gajbhiye and others feel Ambedkar was never the chosen Dalit messiah
of the Congress, which had a tall Dalit leader in Babu Jagjivan Ram.
Since Jagjivan Ram was perceived by many as a rival of Ambedkar, many
Ambedkar followers blame the UPA government for highlighting Jagjivan.
Surprisingly, some Congress leaders are reportedly supporting the
Ambedkar house campaign. Irrespective of whether the house is finally
converted into a grand memorial to Ambedkar or not, the biggest gainer
from the political movement would be the BJP, which according to
Gajbhiye, is in the process of discovering the Dalit factor afresh.
In the middle of this politics is the debate over Ambedkar's decision
to embrace Buddhism. According to Gajbhiye, Ambedkar proved that he
was not in favour of giving up the Bharatiya way of life by embracing
Buddhism, a home-grown religion. Gajbhiye says that this
interpretation should make Ambedkar more acceptable to the RSS and
propel it to protect Dalit interests.
Dalit leaders like Udit Raj, Ram Vilas Paswan, Gajbhiye and
Satyanarayan Jatiya have come together targeting the UPA for its
inability to protect Ambedkar's memory. They are frank about any
political opposition that might emerge out of this meeting of minds.
"If the Dalits can play a greater role in the country's politics in
the coming days, why should they hesitate? After all, it is not
necessary that they have just one party [BSP]for looking after their
interests," said Udit Raj. For the moment, Ambedkar enthusiasts are
busy organising meetings and marches for building a grand memorial at
26 Alipore Road. On April 30, they plan to have a huge human chain in
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