The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mayavati digs up Ambedkar past

Lucknow, March 3: Officials of the Uttar Pradesh government’s culture department are these days busy collecting records and old photographs of Bhimrao Ambedkar’s personal life.

They have been asked to get a statue of his first wife, Ramabai, installed at the entrance of the imposing Ambekar Smarak by April 13 — when the Dalit icon’s birth anniversary celebrations begin in the city.

Chief minister Mayavati, who has asked her officials to dig out every detail of Ambedkar’s somewhat forgotten first wife, will unveil the life-size statue at a special ceremony on April 14.

Mayavati’s critics are seeing petty politics behind the move. “She has resurrected the first wife to spite Ambedkar’s widow Savita and their son Prakash, who have been opposing her and Kanshi Ram in Maharashtra politics,” says R.K. Chaudhary, a former Bahujan Samaj Party leader.

Chaudhary pointed out that Savita had publicly said the BSP was not the true representative of the Dalit samaj. He accused Kanshi Ram of trying to overshadow Ambedkar by projecting himself as the champion of the Dalit cause.

Mayavati’s followers deny there is an ulterior motive in installing the statue. “She only wants… to record things as they were and Ramabai played an influential role in Ambedkar’s life,” BSP leader Naseemuddin Siddiqui said.

Ambedkar had married Ramabai, daughter of a low-caste porter, before completing his matriculation. After her death in 1935, he married Savita Deshpande, an upper-caste social activist who played an important role in his political life.

Culture department officials are trying to stay away from this dispute. But they confirmed that instructions to install Ramabai’s statue had come from the top and they had been given a deadline.

“Our officials have gone to Maharashtra to collect the required information and photographs. A leading sculptor, Shravan Kumar Prajapati, had been engaged to make the statue,” a senior department official said.

Mayavati’s attempt to project Ramabai as a new Dalit icon may have been prompted by her urge to get back at Savita, but it also helps project the chief minister as the sole protector of Ambedkar’s real legacy, political observers say.

Mayavati is touchy if anyone else tries to use Ambedkar’s name for political purposes. When state BJP chief Vinay Katiyar recently tried to portray Ambedkar as a Muslim antagonist, she was quick to take offence and register her protest with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, they point out.

Ambedkar’s birth anniversary — being celebrated from April 13 to April 16 — will provide the chief minister ample opportunity to propagate her brand of Ambedkarism.

The celebrations will begin with folk singers and dancers going around the city. The procession will culminate at Laxman Park where a week-long Ambedkar mela will be held.

Artistes from different states will perform at the fair. An exhibition on Ambedkar’s life and works has also been planned where books will be on display and for sale.

But the central feature of the celebrations will be an exhibition on the development works undertaken by Mayavati to implement Ambedkar’s programmes and policies.

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