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Where Credit Is Due

Acknowledging Babasaheb Ambedkar as a national leader would be the best memorial.

No observer of the Indian political scene will be able to deny the power of symbolism or dare ask “what’s in a name?”. The entire gamut of agitations, protest campaigns and victory processions vis-à-vis the demand for memorials and statues, naming of airports, flyovers and streets, and of welfare schemes after a particular leader is a familiar part and parcel of Indian politics. On one single day last week, newspapers in Mumbai carried an advertisement by the Maharashtra government expressing “gratitude” to the centre for handing over land for a memorial for Babasaheb Ambedkar, a news story of how Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists plan to popularise Narendra Modi in rural Maharashtra by collecting soil and iron for the 600-feet statue of Sardar Patel and one of the Maharashtra government’s decision to lay the foundation for the 312-feet statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji. The cynical among us might link these feverish announcements and demands to the forthcoming general elections; those jostling for credit claim that all they want is to commemorate their leaders.

The announcement on handing over the land for the Ambedkar memorial led to a mutual congratulatory atmosphere between the Maharashtra and central governments; at both places the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are allies. The different factions of the Republican Party of India (RPI) have agitated long for such a memorial. Many more voices joined them just before the municipal and local bodies’ elections of 2011. In the competition to take credit for the memorial, a most unseemly spat between the state government’s ruling partners has also broken out. When newspapers reported that the official announcement was in the offing, the race to take credit became keener. Different groups stepped up, marching to the site with the avowed aim of “taking it over” and one RPI leader even declared that he and his followers were prepared for police lathis and bullets! An NCP leader was quick to tell media persons that he was the first to raise the demand while “others have since joined in for credit”.

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