Dalit leaders clashed with the police and BJP workers at a ceremony to pay tribute and mark the 127th birth anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar in Vadodara on Saturday. The city witnessed political parties and Dalit groups making a beeline at the Ambedkar statue located at the GEB circle in Alkapuri in Vadodara since early morning.
However, as per protocol, the police teams deployed at the venue prohibited some local Dalit leaders from garlanding the statue before Mayor Bharat Dangar. This led to a clash between the police and Dalit leaders, who accused the BJP of hijacking the occasion for political mileage.
The BJP leaders, led by Vadodara leader Jivraj Chauhan and Union Minister Maneka Gandhi, arrived at the venue shortly after 9 am, concluding a rally that the party undertook from its office in Sayajigunj to the venue. While local Dalit community members gathered at the venue jeered at the BJP leaders and cornered them, the police deployed at the venue controlled the situation from turning untoward. While Dalit leaders chanted slogans against the BJP leaders, the ruling party leaders completed their rituals of offering floral tributes to the statue under police protection and departed from the venue.
The Dalit leaders claimed that the BJP had “soiled” the statue by offering tributes to it. They conducted a “purification” of the statue, cleansing it with water and milk. The local Dalit leaders continued the ceremony until late afternoon even as heavy police presence remained on the ground. The police, anticipating trouble due to a call by Vadgam MLA Jignesh Mevani to disallow BJP leaders from going near the statue of Ambedkar, had closed the road leading to the statue until late afternoon on Saturday.
Thakor Solanki, a Local Dalit leader, said that the clash with the police was a result of the unfair means used by the authorities to “throttle all those except the BJP”. Solanki said, “A large number of Dalits, including women and youth, had gathered at the venue early morning, hoping to begin the day by paying our respects to Dr Ambedkar, who is our leader and idol. However, when we reached the venue, the police told us that we will have to queue up and wait until the Mayor and BJP leaders garlanded the statue. We tried to reason with them that if the party has planned to arrive later, it cannot be their prerogative to decide who gets to offer tributes. Babasaheb Ambedkar is our idol while the BJP is using him as a tool for political gains. Therefore, we decided to protest.”
Solanki said that the decision to cleanse the statue was taken as the BJP leaders continued to promote the “evil mentality” that Ambedkar fought against. “What is the difference between the BJP and that society which Babasaheb wanted to change? The BJP leaders also wanted to make us wait in a queue until they had the privilege of garlanding the statue first. This arrogance and oppression of Dalits is the very reason why Babasaheb fought for the community and so, when BJP leaders have that kind of mindset, it only brings impurity to all that Babasaheb stands for. So, we decided to cleanse the statue after they left.”
While BJP leaders refused to comment about the clash, the incident is a common occurrence on the occasion of the annual tribute to Ambedkar. Last year, a clash had occurred between BJP workers and the Congress over who would garland the statue first.
Meanwhile, Dalit groups in Bharuch sat on a protest at the new cable bridge across the Narmada river on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai highway, demanding that the bridge be named after Ambedkar.