New Delhi, April 15: Political parties seem to be seeking to outdo each other in claiming the legacy B. R. Ambedkar, the chief architect of the constitution, but are they true to his teachings? Experts say that support for Ambedkar is driven more by political motives rather than a clear understanding of his work.
Apoorvanand Jha, who teaches at Delhi University and frequently writes on Dalit issues, said that support of political parties for Ambedkar "is not inspired by his work or struggle" and no political party has been able to do justice to his legacy.
"The attempt to appropriate Baba Saheb Ambedkar's legacy by political parties is obscene because this is no real love or respect for him. No political party has been able to do justice to his legacy," Jha told IANS.
Ambedkar's 125th anniversary was observed on Thursday. A series of events were held by different political parties throughout the country to send a signal about their adherence to the values he espoused.
Jha said no political party has carried out major social reforms and they have retained practices which perpetuate the prevalence of caste.
Describing Dalits as the "new democratic class," Jha said they were the "most energised, liberal, vital, and upcoming political force".
"They have become a constituency, which everyone is trying to appeal to and Baba Saheb is an icon of that constituency. Their target is not Baba Saheb but the constituency," he saids.
Coomenting on the Left parties, Jha said it is pertinent for them to establish a rigrous intellectual engagement with Ambedkar before plunging into any alliance.
Kancha Ilaiah, an academician, writer and activist for Dalit rights, said Ambedkar wanted to bring about a lot of change in society.
"He had written about it in several books. He wanted to remove inequality, caste system and untouchability from the society," Ilaiah told IANS.
Ilaiah said there was were political motives behind efforts by right-wing forces to appropriate Ambedkar's legacy and the ruling BJP was trying to co-opt him in major ways.
He said if political parties and the government neglect Ambedkar, they will be seen as anti-people.
"There is definitely a political motive because RSS is an organisation which wants primacy of upper caste and the Brahmins," Ilaiah contended.
Badri Narayan, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Discrimination and Exclusion, School of Social Sciences, JNU, said that Dalit community was a "huge vote bank" for political parties.
"Dalits are a huge vote bank in India, about 15 percent. That is why they are trying to co-opt him. The reasons are very political. In Uttar Pradesh, Dalits are about 21 percent of the population and 31 percent in Punjab," Narayan told IANS.
Prakash Karat, former general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, said it was ironical that BJP was trying to appropriate Ambedkar
"Ambedkar was one of the most trenchant critics of Hindutva and all forms of Hindu orthodoxy, with the whole caste system that is based on Hinduism and he rejected that. So, it is ironical that the BJP is trying to appropriate him, minus his radical democratic secular vision," Karat maintained
Aam Aadmi Party AAP leader Ashutosh also accused BJP of trying to appropriate Ambedkar's legacy.
"The RSS and Narendra Modi are trying to appropriate Ambedkar, but they know they can't digest his observations on Hinduism. Ambedkar is the antithesis of the RSS brand of Hinduism which is elitist and does not accommodate Dalits. The RSS icon is (Veer) Savarakar not Ambedkar," he said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party's Srikant Sharma denied that his party was seeking to appropriate Ambedkar and said Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - the ideological fountainhead of the BJP - has always believed in social harmony.
"We are not trying to appropriate Ambedkar. The RSS has always believed in samajik samrasta (social harmony). It has been a tradition in RSS that whenever a worker or prachark goes out, he dines at the home of a Dalit worker," Sharma told IANS.
He also accused Congress and the Left parties of not respecting his legacy.
K. Raju, chairman of the Congress' scheduled caste department, said his party's association with Ambedkar has been for long. "It was this association that guided the Congress to support him in drafting each and every article of the constitution in the right spirit," he said.
"We are committed to realizing his vision of aone man-one value', which has not been achieved yet," he added.