Ahead of State Assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, Aam Aadmi Party Chief Arvind Kejriwal faces an uphill battle to rescue his party from the Bhartiya Janata Party’s tagging of it as “anti-Hindu” after Delhi’s now ex-Social Welfare Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam was seen chanting Buddhist pledges at an event where Hindu deities were allegedly denounced in the capital on October 5.
The BJP was quick to capitalize on the issue and attacked Kejriwal during the election campaigning in Gujarat and accused him of being "anti-Hindu." Expressing anguish over such accusations, Gautam resigned from his post on Sunday, stating that he attended the event in his personal capacity and it had nothing to do with his party or the ministry. He lashed out at the BJP for targeting Kejriwal and AAP, alleging the saffron party was doing ''dirty politics'' on the issue.
Gautam, who was the Minister for Social Welfare, SC and ST, Registrar of Co-operative Societies and Gurudwara Elections, said he is resigning as minister as he does not want his leader or AAP to be in trouble because of him.
While Gautam’s resignation remains pending with Delhi Chief Minister and AAP party head, internal sources told PTI that the next minister will be from the same community as Gautam.
Ambedkar Nagar MLA Ajay Dutt and Kondli legislator Kuldeep Kumar are the frontrunners among the leaders being considered for the post, they said.
Opposition demands strict action against other AAP dignitaries
Delhi BJP leaders said Gautam's resignation is not enough and he should be expelled from the AAP. Both the BJP and Delhi Congress also demanded that Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Health Minister Satyendar Jain should be sacked over corruption allegations.
Leader of Opposition in Delhi Assembly Ramvir Singh Bidhuri said that Gautam had resigned due to pressure from the BJP. He said legal action should also be taken against Gautam and he should be expelled from the party for "condemning Hindu gods and goddesses".
"Apart from this, resignations should also be taken from the Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and minister Satyendra Jain who are involved in corruption," the BJP leader said.
"Gautam's resignation does not mean that there has been any change in Kejriwal's ideology, but it is because Kejriwal fears losses in the Gujarat and Himachal elections. That is why he has taken the resignation from Gautam," he added.
"The question is, when will Kejriwal take action against his corrupt ministers? When will he sack Manish Sisodia? There are serious allegations against several other MLAs too," said Anil Kumar, Delhi Congress President.
चलो बुद्ध की ओर मिशन जय भीम बुलाता है।— Rajendra Pal Gautam (@AdvRajendraPal) October 5, 2022
आज "मिशन जय भीम" के तत्वाधान में अशोका विजयदशमी पर डॉ०अंबेडकर भवन रानी झांसी रोड पर 10,000 से ज्यादा बुद्धिजीवियों ने तथागत गौतम बुद्ध के धम्म में घर वापसी कर जाति विहीन व छुआछूत मुक्त भारत बनाने की शपथ ली।
नमो बुद्धाय, जय भीम! pic.twitter.com/sKtxzVRYJt
The Deeksha Samaroh that ignited the tussle
The controversy erupted last week after a video went viral in which Gautam is seen at an event on October 5 where hundreds took a pledge to convert to Buddhism and to not consider Hindu deities as gods.
Gautam had accused the BJP of spreading "rumours" against him, and apologised to "anyone who has been hurt due to such propaganda". He added further that "I do not want my leader Shri Arvind Kejriwal or the party to be in any trouble because of me. I am a true solider of the party and I will follow the ideals shown by Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Gautam Buddh throughout my entire life," the MLA from Seemapuri said on Sunday.
The AAP leader said he participated in the October 5 event "as a member of a society in personal capacity" and it had nothing to do with his party and the council of ministers.
He stressed that Rajratana Ambedkar, the great-grandson of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar, reiterated the 22 pledges (people take while embracing Buddhism) at the event and he had also repeated them along with more than 10,000 people.
"Since then, the BJP has been targeting our leader Arvind Kejriwal ji and the AAP which has pained me a lot," the letter read.
Pledges against caste discrimination: Gautam
Gautam said crores of people repeat these 22 pledges at thousands of places across the country every year. "The BJP is playing dirty politics on the issue which has pained me and therefore, I am resigning from my ministerial post," he said.
He alleged that the BJP has objections to Baba Saheb Ambedkar and his 22 pledges. In the same vein, Gautam thanked Kejriwal for giving him respect and support and praised his party for the work done in the sectors of education, health, women and child development, social welfare, electricity and water.
He said the incidents of violence against the members of the Dalit community over the last few years and the discrimination based on caste "impale his heart" and he will continue his fight for their rights.
The legislator also alleged that "some people who have a 'manuwadi' mentality" had also been threatening him, his family members and colleagues over social media and phone but added that he won't be intimidated. ''I will fight the battle for my community's rights with full honesty, power and strength. Even if I have to sacrifice myself for this battle to get the rights of my people in society, I will not let this battle stop," he asserted.
Catch-22 situation for Kejriwal
With AAP eyeing prospects for itself in the upcoming state assembly elections in both Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, Kejriwal faces a classic political dilemma between action v/s inaction. With 6.74% of Gujarat’s population comprising Scheduled Caste population, and the corresponding figure for Himachal being as high as 25%, the stakes are high for AAP if it chooses to publicly act against Gautam.
At the same time, years of toil to paint the party’s image as that of “pro Hindu” in a bid to compete with the BJP’s Hindutva brand of appeasement, AAP’s hindutva cravings are likely to remain insatiated in the absence of a decisive stance to the controversy around Gautam’s attendance at the deeksha samaroh.
(With inputs from PTI)