Accusing his opponents of “spreading lies” against the government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Monday called himself a “bhakt” of B R Ambedkar and asserted that the reservation policy for Dalits and tribals will not be diluted even if Ambedkar himself were to come back to life and demand its revocation.
Modi, who was delivering the Ambedkar Memorial Lecture at Vigyan Bhawan, took a veiled dig at Opposition parties and said, “Some people do not even want to see us. They get a fever when they see us. That’s why they are spreading lies.”
“When the Vajpayee government was formed, people were scared that reservation was going to be abolished. But nothing of that sort happened… This is a right that nobody can snatch,” he said. “Lies are being spread even today because some people are only engaging in politics.”
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BJP’s commitment to the reservation policy has been questioned by the Opposition ever since RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat pitched for its review in September last year, just ahead of the Bihar assembly elections. Amid criticism, Modi had stepped in and said Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad had earlier demanded religion-based reservation. “A ghost of reservation is being erected,” he said, accusing Nitish, Lalu and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi of “framing a sinister plan”, “conspiring to snatch five per cent reservation each from Dalits and other backward castes and give it to others”.
Bhagwat was also forced to alter his stand. In January this year, while addressing students in Pune, he said reservations should continue as long as discrimination and inequality in society exists. Senior RSS functionary Dattatreya Hosabale reiterated this at an event this week.
Modi’s lecture on Monday was replete with references to his predecessor’s alleged inability to fulfil Ambedkar’s legacy. Modi also said he would make the memorial dedicated to Ambedkar — the foundation stone for which was laid by him Monday — one of the most iconic buildings in the country.
“When I went for the Indu Mills programme to lay the foundation stone of the Ambedkar memorial, I had said that Babasaheb Ambedkar himself cannot take this right away from you today. So who are we? We are too small in comparison to him,” Modi said, referring to reservation for Dalits and tribals. “He (Ambedkar) left us in 1956. Today, after 60 years, a memorial is being set up… Perhaps this was written in my fate… I will inaugurate it on April 14, 2018,” the PM said.
In another example of how successive governments let the Dalit icon down, Modi said Ambedkar resigned from Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet after the government of the day buckled under the opposition’s pressure and did not back the Hindu Code Bill which aimed at giving women equal property rights, among other things. “This part of history is either forgotten or diluted,” he said.
The Prime Minister then attempted to draw parallels between his government’s initiatives and Ambedkar’s vision. “Wherever we have got the opportunity to serve, we have taken decisions out of shraddha (respect) for Dr. Ambedkar,” he said.
“There is a Bill on waterways in Parliament, but let me tell you this vision is not mine. It is of Dr. Ambedkar. He believed in India’s maritime strength. If Babasaheb had served in government for a longer time, he could have done 60 years before what I did today,” he said.
“He knew that Dalits do not have land and industrialisation was one way to help them get a source of livelihood… Dalit entrepreneurship was an issue that was picked up by our government. Our budget this time has accepted all demands made by Dalit entrepreneurs,” he said.
The Prime Minister also compared the architect of the Constitution to Martin Luther King Jr, who had fought for the rights of African-Americans. “I think we shouldn’t label Ambedkar as the messiah only of Dalits. Babasaheb was the voice of the marginalised. He is a Vishwa Manav (world citizen). Talking about him with respect to just India is injustice to him. We should see him in the same light as the world sees Martin Luther King Jr,” Modi said.