The party has made the “correction of perception” the key objective of its celebrations of 125 years of Ambedkar, acknowledging that it has hurt Congress’s credibility with its loyal support base of dalits and led to fragmentation of the voting bloc. The concerns were expressed in a meeting called by party chief Sonia Gandhi to finalise year-long events to honour Ambedkar.
K Raju, head of AICC’s SC cell, blamed dalit parties like BSP for projecting Congress as anti-Ambedkar. During the discussions, former CM Ajit Jogi pointed to the flood of “misinformation” online about Congress-Ambedkar relations which needs to be corrected. “We should launch a communication drive to set the record straight,” he said.
The concern that dalit leaders rose in public estimate by successfully projecting Congress as having marginalized Ambedkar marks an acceptance of the party’s failing in sustaining the trust of dalits. Sections within have argued that it was the weakening of Congress’ bond with dalits which created a vacuum that allowed the identity-based newbies to jump in.
Now, the party believes that Ambedkar-centric events spread over months would present an opportunity to reclaim ‘the father of the constitution’.
Sources said the meet noted the tributes being planned by others like RSS-BJP, albeit without naming the saffron camp. “People know whose tributes are legitimate. Nehru government brought the Hindu Code bill strongly pushed by Ambedkar while RSS held protests against it… Ambedkar spoke about how caste was killing society while these sections supported the caste system,” Raju said.
In the year dedicated to Ambedkar, the party decided to focus on empowerment policies brought by its governments to woo dalits.
Rajya Sabha MP Selja urged that pressure be mounted on the government for passage of constitutional amendment bill for ‘reservation in promotions’, strengthening of atrocities Act and a new law to ensure proportionate spending on dalit welfare. The bills on promotions and atrocities are facing resistance from many parties and pending in parliament.
Former PM Manmohan Singh suggested that Congress join hands with dalit intellectuals to educate people about progressive policies like “procurement quota” – mandatory 4% of annual government purchases to be made from units owned by dalits.