New Delhi: Amid a race between BJP and Congress to claim the legacy of Dalit icon B R Ambedkar, the Union Cabinet today decided to observe in a big way the 125th birth anniversary of the architect of the Indian Constitution.
The Cabinet was apprised of the constitution of a committee under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to suggest different programmes and activities to be undertaken by various ministries, departments, states and Union Territories to celebrate Ambedkar's anniversary and spread his thoughts and ideas.
The committee included senior ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, M Venkaiah Naidu, Smriti Irani, Sadanand Gowda, Ram Vilas Paswan and Suresh Prabhu. Briefing the media after a meeting of the Cabinet, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Cabinet was informed of 16 major activities being undertaken by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to promote Ambedkar's ideology and philosophy.
These initiatives included setting up of Ambedkar International Centre at 15, Janpath at a cost of Rs 197 crore. Prasad and Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot ruled out any political motive behind the government's elaborate plans but hit out at Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, who will kick off Congress' nation-wide celebrations of Ambedkar's anniversary from the Dalit icon's birth place Mhow in Madha Pradesh on Tuesday.
Congress leaders are also holding a meet today to chalk out plans for the celebrations.
“Rahul Gandhi and his party never honoured Ambedkar. Neither he neither got Bharat Ratna nor was his oil painting installed in Parliament premises as long Congress was in power. If today somebody is going there (Mhow), I want to ask why did he not do it for so many years?
“Today they (Congress) are doing it as the land beneath their feat has slipped,” Gehlot, the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, said.
Both BJP and Congress are planning to observe Ambedkar's birth anniversary in a big way this year in their attempt to reach out to the Dalit community.
Assembly elections are due in Bihar this year and the BJP is wooing the Dalit and Mahadalit communities in its attempt to capture power in the key Hindi state on its own. The last Lok Sabha polls saw caste barriers breaking in key north Indian states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where a sizeable section of Dalits voted for BJP.
Taking a dig at Congress, Union minister Prasad said the fact is before the entire nation as to what honour has been given to Ambedkar in the 67-year period since Independence, of which Congress was in power for 58 long years.
“Everybody has contributed for Independence... Everyone should get the honour. Among them Ambedkar had made a huge contribution. Ambedkar is a proven architect of modern India,” Prasad said and listed the steps taken by BJP governments, led by Modi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee earlier, to honour the Dalit icon.
Prasad said that a tableau on Ambedkar will also be presented on the Republic Day Parade next year.
The 16 major activities that the government has lined up to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Ambedkar include observing his birthday on April 14 as ‘National Nandhutva Bhav Samrasata Diwas (National Amity and Brotherhood Day)', issue a commemorative postal stamp and a coin on him, and set up Ambedkar Memorial, at a cost of Rs 99 crore, at 26, Alipur, Delhi where Ambedkar lived from November 1, 1951 till he breathed his last on December 6, 1956.
Besides, it plans to bring out a commemorative publication containing articles on Ambedkar by renowned personalities, organise a series of 12 lectures through existing Ambedkar Chairs set up by the Ambedkar Foundation, develop at least two prominent places associated with him, hold seminars on his contribution, and sponsor 100 students for study tour to Universities of Columbia (USA) and London School of Economics (UK), where Ambedkar studied.
The minister said the activities planned so far are part of the preliminary plan, which could be expanded or modified under the guidance of the committee, chaired by the Prime Minister.
Gehlot insisted that it is not new for the BJP to mark programmes to honour Ambedkar, claiming that the Jan Sangh had way back in 1953 done it. He also recalled that when Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat, a massive yatra was taken to honour the Constitution and its architect.
Claiming that the initiative to construct a memorial at Mhow was began when there was a BJP government in the state, Gehlot alleged that it was halted for ten years when Congress came to power and could be completed only when BJP returned to power in the state.