B R Ambedkar envisioned a society that would be educated, capable and progressive and where social justice and equality would be easily available to the Dalits and all sections of society. Ambedkar was a social reformer in the true sense and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to take decisive steps to actualise his dreams. India is a country that has been constantly at war with poverty and the challenges of inequality. Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar will always be remembered as not just one of the founding fathers of modern India, but also as a social reformer who worked tirelessly for empowering the downtrodden.
As India’s first law minister and as a social reformer post-Independence, he propagated concepts like equal pay for equal work, maternity benefits and above all, voting rights to all Indians, including women. His views shaped the discourse on how India should march towards an egalitarian and casteless society. Our Constitution bears testimony to that.
Today, political parties compete with each other to claim Ambedkar’s legacy, but it is the BJP which has, since its inception, worked on Babasaheb’s teachings on social and financial inclusion. The BJP’s core belief has not just been to ensure that the Dalits and downtrodden find a respectable position in society, but that they should also be a part of the country’s economic progress. The Congress ruled India for over five decades but never did anything substantial except pay lip service to Ambedkar. In fact, it was the BJP-supported government led by the late V P Singh, which conferred the Bharat Ratna on Ambedkar in 1990.
No wonder, when PM Modi began his election campaign for the 2014 general elections, he made the poor and downtrodden his core strength. The BJP emerged not just as the largest party, but also got the largest number of Dalit MPs with more than half of the 84 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs).
It is due to the vote-bank politics of the Congress that the majority of Dalits were never able to join the national mainstream and their social isolation continued under its rule. However, this situation has changed considerably since PM Modi assumed office. The Centre started developing five places as “Panchteerth” in Ambedkar’s honour, which include his birthplace in Mhow (MP), the place in London where he stayed while studying, Deeksha Bhoomi in Nagpur, Mahaparinirvan Sthal in Delhi, and Chaitya Bhoomi in Mumbai. In order to ensure that the benefits of development percolate to the grass roots, the Modi government has concentrated on social and financial inclusion.
One such commendable social inclusion effort is the scheme for providing free quality coaching for SC and OBC students sitting for competitive exams. The government revised the old scheme, removing the maximum ceiling of Rs 20,000 per student and has decided to fund the entire amount for coaching. Similarly, under the Dr Ambedkar Scheme for Social Integration Through Inter-Caste Marriages, the government is now providing Rs 2.5 lakh as an incentive for every inter-caste marriage involving a Dalit. Previously, this scheme was meant for couples whose income did not exceed Rs 5 lakh per annum.
The government has also made provisions for the establishment of a monitoring committee at the state level, to be headed by the chief minister, to focus on issues related to the education and employment for SCs and STs. Ironically, states run by opposition parties are still to form such a panel. For financial inclusion, the government started the “Stand Up India” scheme to encourage SC/ST and women entrepreneurs. It was decided to create 2.5 lakh Dalit entrepreneurs. The idea is also based on the teachings of Babasaheb, who said, “if you believe in living a respectable life, you believe in self-help, which is the best help”.
Perhaps one of the biggest efforts to help the poor, particularly the Dalits, to come out of the cycle of poverty was the launch of the MUDRA bank or the Micro Units Development Refinance Agency. With a corpus of Rs 20,000 crore and a credit guarantee corpus of Rs 3,000 crore, the MUDRA bank is benefiting businesses, where Dalits are employed in large numbers.
PM Modi has also ensured that the rights of SCs and STs are protected. In 2015, the government came out with the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, which provides for stringent action against those involved in crimes against SCs and STs. The Act also provides for establishing special courts to try such offences and for the rehabilitation of victims. Similarly, the government’s strong response to the recent Supreme Court judgment on the SC/ST Act comes from the NDA and BJP’s commitment towards the rights and freedom of the Dalits.
While the Opposition is busy dividing the country on caste and communal lines, the PM continues to work towards realising Ambedkar’s vision through initiatives like Jan Dhan Yojana, Ujjwala Yojana, Swachh Bharat Mission, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Saubhagya Yojana and Ayushman Bharat. The Opposition, particularly the Congress, must realise that blocking Parliament won’t help in making “New India”, which Ambedkar envisioned. Working tirelessly to make India free from caste oppression, ensuring equal opportunity and rights, and progressing through the strength of technology surely will. It is the prime minister who has contributed the most towards realising Babasaheb’s dreams.