In The Name Of Babasaheb
Open|October 26, 2015
In The Name Of Babasaheb
Can Ambedkars legacy be reduced to a political totem?
Sunaina Kumar

The Delhi address 15 Janpath Roa site of frenzied construction activity, a kind that is rather uncommon for the languid Lutyens Bungalow Zone Cranes, trucks, iron rods and mounds of san everywhere. Large masses of workers have putting in long hours. A contractor is heard ing a man that he has been working more 15 hours a day, but he does not grudge it, he says. “Bahut khushi hai ki Babasaheb ke liye k banaa rahe hain.” The man he addresses is bureaucrat from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. He is here to inspect the of construction of the ambitious Ambedkar International Centre.

The office of Dr Ambedkar Foundation responsible for overseeing the project, is located on site—a cramped space with the sterile air common to sarkari premises. Sudhir Hilsayan editor of Samajik Nyay Sandesh, a monthly magazine on Ambedkar brought out by the Foundation, is the only person present in office on a Friday evening. He summarises the purpose of the new centre. “On every street corner in every city, you will find Ambedkar. He must be the most garlanded man in this country. But, we need to move beyond ceremonial tributes. The AIC will have a discourse on social justice and action-oriented research on Ambedkar." A modern stone building that will incorporate elements of Buddhist architecture, it will have a public library, a research centre, a convention centre, and will be made at an estimated cost of Rs 195 crore.

Some distance away, at 26 Alipur Road in Civil Lines, a grand new memorial is being built. It was once a mansion that belonged to the Raja of Sirohi who invited Ambedkar to live here in 1952, when he had to vacate his official residence after resigning from the Cabinet. Located opposite the old Vidhan Sabha, the original structure was torn down by its subsequent owners (The Jindal family), and was turned into a make memorial in 2003 by the NDA Government of the time. The only memorial to Ambedkar in  Delhi, which had some photographs and books stacked in a desultory fashion, hardly received any visitors. Once again, the building at that site has been demolished. Heaps of rubble is all can be found there now. The new memorial will be built in the shape of an open book, representing the Constitution, and will have a budget Rs 99 crore.

In November 1949, BR Ambedkar made a ring speech on the day before the Constituent Assembly formally finished its work. “There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country,” he said, “But there are limits to gratefulness.” Ambedkar drew the line at hero-worship. The irony is that his own followers did not heed him. He remains the most deified of all national leaders. In the run-up to 14 April 2016, the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar, every political party of every hue is out to demonstrate grateful it is to him. The Congress and BJP have announced year-long celebrations beginning from April this year. Rahul Gandhi registered his presence at Ambedkar’s birthplace at Mhow in Madhya Pradesh with a rally. The Centre, in turn, announced an elaborate commemorative programme. As a sideshow, the two parties been bickering over who can rightfully claim Ambedkar. The BJP alleges that the Congress has never given Ambedkar his due. The Congress denies this and says that it facilitated his entry to the Constituent Assembly and has always portrayed him as a statesman. For the current Government, as it promotes a new iconography of modern India that features leaders like Patel, Bose, Shastri, Jayaprakash Narayan and many others to correct what it sees as an overbalance towards the Nehru dynasty, Ambedkar is the obvious trump card, the one who has the most currency as a socio-political icon with pan-India appeal.

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October 26, 2015