An agitated Ambedkarite sent me a message yesterday. “Is it just the people who proclaim themselves as Ambedkarites who must protest and raise their voice against what happened in Dadar today? Why are others not expressing their angst?” He was referring to the demolition of Ambedkar Bhavan, which was carried out in the wee hours of Saturday. He lamented that only a handful of people cared about Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and his legacy in Mumbai.
But as the day passed, it turned out to be yet another round of ugly feuds between members of the Ambedkar family (primarily Babasaheb’s grandsons) and non-family members of the trusts that manage institutions that Dr Ambedkar had founded in his lifetime or came into existence after his death. A large section of Ambedkarites and sympathisers of the Dalit movement are fed up with the frequent spats that are detrimental to the welfare of the community.
The aggressiveness and contempt with which the warring parties go against each other in public places, and in the courts where they seek justice, is proving a big dampener for Maharashtra’s Buddhist Dalits. The community that had raised a national brand of Dalit politics is now split in some 30-32 smaller units of the Republic Party of India, of which only 4-5 have survived electoral politics, but not without the crutches of bigger parties. The splinter groups did try their hand at unity two decades ago and won reasonably in Lok Sabha in association with the Congress. The show has never been repeated, neither the unity nor the electoral results. Instead, they are now trying to appropriate Dr Ambedkar in their own ways. The feuds in Buddhist institutes are part of this power game.
Amid this melee, Dr Ambedkar’s heirs face a sort of identity crisis. Unlike other famous political families, it doesn’t find itself in the control centre. Prakash Ambedkar shows occasional flashes of brilliance in a particular district in Vidarbha, but fails miserably elsewhere.
Prakash’s younger brother Anandraj, a listless performer in electoral politics, is trying to gain importance in many ways. He was on the forefront while demanding the Indu Mill land for Dr Ambedkar’s memorial. Other splinter groups did not allow him to hog the entire credit.
Anandraj is also trying to gain control of the People’s Education Society that runs Siddharth College and many other institutes. Fighting him is another Dalit leader, Ramdas Athavale. Their case is in the Supreme Court. The college once had two principals, each appointed by rival factions. Such is the state of affairs at the institute – established by Dr Ambedkar to uplift Dalits — that the leaders and their cronies do little to help downtrodden students. Why would the students, their families and others sympathise with selfish leaders and support their agitations?
Almost every major Ambedkarite institution is marred by internal feuds. Nagpur’s Diksha Bhoomi, where Dr Ambedkar led the way as lakhs of Hindu Dalits converted to Buddhism in 1956, has always been mired in controversy. But things there are much improved now. Mumbai’s Chaitya Bhoomi memorial has suffered because of friction between the Ambedkar family and the memorial’s management trust. The trust has not made any effort to improve the memorial and make it more appealing to the lakhs of visitors. The tension between the warring factions will escalate further when the state appoints a board for the lucrative Ambedkar memorial on Indu Mills land.
The truth is that the Dalit Buddhist movement has been rendered toothless in Maharashtra. We may continue to see Dr Ambedkar on the streets in statues that gather dust or at memorials (one of which is in London), but what is really worrying is the weakening ideological heritage of Dr Ambedkar.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to email@example.com