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Prime Minister inaugurates Dr Ambedkar International Centre in New Delhi, claims efforts were afoot to wipe out Ambedkar’s contributions towards nation-building

After Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now aggressively trying to appropriate father of the Indian Constitution and Dalit icon Dr BR Ambedkar at a time when his party, the BJP, is facing an uphill task of wooing agitated voters from the oppressed community in poll-bound Gujarat.

On Thursday, as the Prime Minister inaugurated the Dr Ambedkar International Centre in New Delhi, he sought to use the event – cleverly timed to coincide with the last day of campaigning for the first phase of the Gujarat assembly polls – to indirectly hit out at the Congress party and the Nehru-Gandhi family for trying to wipe out the Dalit icon’s legacy.

Although the Prime Minister did not name any specific party or leader while claiming that there had been efforts in the past to gloss over the contributions that Baba Saheb – as Dr Ambedkar is fondly referred to – made towards building India after independence, his broadside was clearly aimed at the Congress party and Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

It thus came as no surprise that soon after the event, former Union minister and veteran Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar called the Prime Minister a “neech aadmi” (low-level human) and asserted that if there was one leader who helped Dr Ambedkar fulfill his ambitions, it was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first Prime Minister.

However, the Prime Minister, who was in his home state’s Surat district later on Thursday to campaign for his party in the upcoming elections, latched on to Aiyar’s comments and sought to use them to project himself as the ‘victim’ of unfair barbs by the Congress party.

In a clear damage control move, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi distanced himself and his party from Aiyar’s remarks, stating “I do not appreciate the tone and language” used by the senior party leader to address the Prime Minister and asserted that both he and the Congress party “expect him (Aiyar) to apologise for what he said”. However, Rahul also emphasises that the “BJP and PM repeatedly use filthy language to attack the Congress party”.

Modi’s clearly political tirade against the Congress at an event to dedicate an institution named after Dr Ambedkar to the nation comes in the wake of his party facing a huge challenge in wooing Dalit voters in Gujarat. The home state of the Prime Minister has been witness to massive protests by Dalits against the BJP since last year when two Dalit men were mercilessly flogged in Gujarat’s Una by cow vigilantes on the suspicion that they had slaughtered cows. It had later turned out that the Dalit men were merely taking a hide off dead cattle – a routine business chore that the Dalit community often has to engage in to make ends meet – and the outrage over the violence against them turned into a campaign against the BJP.

It is pertinent to note that the BJP is facing a huge electoral challenge mounted by young Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani who has asked his massive following of Dalits in the state to uproot the BJP from Gujarat. Mewani is contesting the Gujarat Assembly polls as an independent candidate from the Vadgam constituency in Banaskantha district and has received support from the Congress and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party which have not fielded any candidate from the seat, thereby making the election in Vadgam a direct clash between the BJP and Mewani.

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