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Monday , January 25 , 2010
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Modi springs book on Dalits
With an oversized replica of the Constitution atop an elephant, Narendra Modi leads the public at Surendranagar in Gujarat on Sunday

Ahmedabad, Jan. 24: Narendra Modi launched a jumbo campaign to woo Dalits today but to many, the gap between rhetoric and reality may have seemed wide enough for an elephant to be driven through it.

That’s what the Gujarat chief minister did. He mounted an extra-large replica of the Constitution atop a decked-out elephant and marched with it through a Saurashtra town that has a large and increasingly assertive Dalit population.

On a day the Congress-led central government was wiping egg off its face over a howler in an anti-female foeticide advertisement, Modi’s political promotional appeared picture-perfect, having ticked all the right boxes on the symbolism stakes.

The Constitution’s best-known architect, B.R. Ambedkar, is a Dalit icon. The elephant is the symbol of the only mainstream Dalit party, the Bahujan Samaj Party.

And the Samvidhan Gaurav Yatra (Parade of Pride for the Constitution) which he was leading through the streets of Surendranagar, over 100km from Ahmedabad, was taking place two days before the 60th anniversary of India’s adoption of the Constitution.

Portions of the message, however, seemed a little mixed up.

Modi urged Gujaratis to learn more about the Constitution and take pride in Ambedkar.

“Ambedkar’s soul will surely bless us for this unique yatra,” he declared as his pageant resonated with Hindu religious chants and patriotic songs.

Ambedkar, however, had rejected Hinduism. Also, the religion he had embraced, Buddhism, does not believe in an abiding soul.

Modi, accused of presiding over the massacre of Muslims eight years ago, saluted the Constitution as the “greatest unifying force in a land of diversities and different faiths”.

Many listeners may have wondered some more if they remembered how K.S. Sudarshan, former chief of the RSS to which Modi owes his rise, had scoffed that the Constitution was an “enlarged and revised edition of the Government of India Act 1935”.

A Modi aide explained the yatra’s objective. He said Surendranagar had witnessed the highest number of atrocities on Dalits who, unlike elsewhere in Gujarat, were gearing to fight back politically.

The BSP’s labour arm has been working among them for some time but no political party has seriously tried to draft the community’s support. Modi, the aide said, wanted to be the first.

“He has read the signals correctly. The Dalits of Saurashtra are getting increasingly politicised and if we don’t watch out, the Congress may get their votes or else the BSP may acquire a foothold,” a government source said.

Dalit activist Martin Macwan said Modi’s iconisation of Ambedkar was a “clever move”.

Political analysts suggested larger subtexts to Modi’s agenda. With the chief minister embracing industry and investment, the Congress has been harping on the state’s poor performance on social indicators such as health, education and gender parity.

By reaching out to Dalits, Modi wants to counter the perception that he cares only for industry and well-to-do city dwellers, a BJP MP said.

Another party insider said the chief minister wanted to wash off the riot taint: “He was seen as someone who thumbed his nose at the rule of law and the Constitution. He wants to make amends.”

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