Six decades after the death of B R Ambedkar, the “architect of India’s Constitution” was at the centre of a Lok Sabha debate Thursday which saw every major political party trying to appropriate his legacy and invoke his name to strike at each other.
On the first morning of the two-day debate on the commitment to India’s Constitution on the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar, the government launched an offensive against the Opposition, mainly the Congress, over the inclusion of the words secular and socialist in the Preamble saying Ambedkar didn’t want them there but Indira Gandhi had her way.
“The words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ were incorporated in the Preamble through the 42nd amendment of the Constitution. We have no objection. Let bygones be bygones. Ambedkar had never thought the necessity to incorporate it in the Preamble as these two words were part of the Constitution,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh said, initiating the discussion.
The Congress objected, saying Ambedkar wanted it but did not include it considering the “prevailing situation in the country” at that time.
Singh sought to link the government’s schemes directly to Ambedkar. “Prime Minister Modi was so inspired by the philosophy of Ambedkar and Constitution that he launched schemes like Jan Dhan Yojana, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao,” he said. “Ambedkar was a great democrat, like the greatest democrat, Lord Ram, who made his wife Sita go through the test of fire for the sake of democracy,” he said.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi brought up the issue intolerance and said ideals and principles of the Constitution, as envisaged by Ambedkar, were under threat and being attacked deliberately. “People who have no faith in the Constitution, who have not contributed to its making, they are talking about it repeatedly, and are trying to appropriate it. There cannot be a bigger joke,” she said.
She also quoted Ambedkar’s praise of the Congress for having appointed him chairman of the drafting committee of the Constitution. Sudip Bandyopadhyay of Trinamool Congress used Ambedkar’s electoral constituency to lay claim to his legacy.
“When the Constituent Assembly was set up, Ambedkar represented West Bengal though he was born in Madhya Pradesh. Babasaheb Ambedkar was elected from West Bengal as Mahatma Gandhi wanted him to be inducted in the committee, but Maharashtra or Madhya Pradesh did not recommend Ambedkarji’s name,” he said.
The assertion from the TMC led to a minor duel on history lessons. BJP’s S S Ahluwalia said Ambedkar did not represent Bengal in the Constituent Assembly. Jumping into the fray, TMC member and historian Sugata Bose clarified that Ambedkar indeed represented Bengal at that time. “Ambedkar represented Jessore and Khulna constituencies from undivided Bengal. When Partition happened, these areas went to Pakistan Constituent Assembly,” he said. “As it was important that Ambedkar was re-elected to the Constituent Assembly, he was elected from what was then Bombay Province,” Bose said.
The debate soon turned into Congress-bashing by the BJP and its allies who kept insisting, by quoting historical instances, that the Congress had undermined Ambedkar’s legacy. “The Congress did not see it fit to give the great Ambedkar even a Bharat Ratna. All the decades since Independence that it ruled the country, it did not even put up his portrait in the Central Hall of Parliament. Both things we did when V P Singh’s government came to power in 1989 with BJP support,” Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said.
“The Congress always said there’s not enough space on the wall in Central Hall to put up another portrait. Dil mein jagah ho toh deewar pe bhi jagah ban jaati hai,” he said. The Shiv Sena highlighted how the Congress fielded candidates against Ambedkar. “The Congress claims it made Ambedkar chairman of the drafting committee but it also put up candidates to oppose Ambedkar in two elections which he contested from Mumbai. And the result was Babasaheb Ambedkar lost both times,” Sena’s Anand Rao Adsul said.
Replying to the charges, Mallikarjun Kharge said it was a Congress government that had installed Ambedkar’s statue outside Parliament much before a portrait was put up at Central Hall. “Ambedkar himself has given credit to the Congress for the disciplined functioning of the process of drafting the Constitution,” he said.
Speaking for the government, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given him the mandate that all places connected to the life and times of Ambedkar be developed as memorials.
“Prime Minister Modi has written many books on Ambedkar. I urge our friends from the Opposition to read those books to understand our outlook towards the great man,” he said.
Gehlot said the government has taken over the London house where Ambedkar stayed while studying there. He said the house at 26, Alipur Road in Delhi where Ambedkar lived was being developed as a memorial with Rs 100 crore from the government. Similarly, his birthplace in Mhow has also been identified for a bigger memorial. “All this only either the present government or the previous NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee did,” he said.
Gehlot also said that the Congress maligned “Ambedkar’s hard work” by clamping Emergency in 1975 and by not implementing the Uniform Civil Code or repealing Article 370 which, he said, go against the spirit of the Constitution.
“Not only is this government spending the required money to development Ambedkar’s legacy, the next Republic Day parade will also feature a tableau on Ambedkar, something that no previous government has done,” he said.
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