As lakhs of Dalits converge at Chaityabhoomi (Dadar) on Monday to commemorate the 54th death anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar, social reforms and economic empowerment appear to have overshadowed the political agenda.
Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution, died on December 6, 1956 and since the day is known “Mahaparinirvan Din”, when Dalits across the state and the country travel to Mumbai to offer tributes. Having aligned with the ruling Congress-NCP combine, the Republican Party of India (RPI), at the forefront of mobilising masses, this time appears to be on the back foot.
After failing to unite the faction-ridden Dalits, RPI leader Ramdas Athavale seems vulnerable.
On the other hand, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)’s experiment to integrate the Dalits under one forum, led by Mayawati, proved a debacle in Maharashtra. Not surprisingly, as Ambedkar’s relevance grows in the globalisation era, torch-bearers of his movement need to indulge in introspection and take corrective steps if they have to reaffirm their independent identity.
President of the Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) and Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar asserts, “His philosophy is more relevant as discrimination in educational, political, social and economical sector needs to be weeded out.”
Citing examples in Maharashtra, he asked, “How can one explain the atrocities against Dalits in progressive states. Why were Khairlanji victims not awarded capital punishment? Why was their capital punishment turned to life sentence?” This only shows the deep prejudices among the ruling class against Dalits, he added.
Most Dalits in the city admit that they felt various organisations should have joined hands to make Khairlanji a common issue.
Meanwhile, Dalits from distant villages in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh unanimously stated, “We have come to pay obeisance to Dr BR Ambedkar. He is our god,” Outside Dadar station, Dalit youth were seen distributing booklets on BR Ambedkar as part of the awareness campaign in Marathi, Hindi and English.
According to Dalit activist Tusshar Jagtap, “Ambedkar’s relevance has grown as he was the champion of human rights and social reforms. Today, every suppressed section looks forward to his philosophy for lasting solutions. There is a subtle movement among the oppressed classes at the grassroots. They are looking for a right leadership.
” According to Milind Kamble, president of the Dalit Chamber of Industries and Commerce (DCIC), “Today, the relevance of economist Ambedkar is significant. Along with social reforms, he has always laid emphasis on economic empowerment for self-reliance of an individual.”
Kamble reveals, “The DCIC, which is committed to Dalit economic upliftment, has enrolled 1,000 Dalit businessmen across the country. In Maharashtra, we have 400 Dalit business enterprises whose annual turnover is worth Rs5,000 crore.”