Advocating equality in letter and spirit on the 152nd birth anniversary of Kerala’s Dalit icon, Mahatma Ayyankali, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said it was “unfortunate for the nation that for a variety of reasons people like Ayyankali have been forgotten’’.
Mr. Modi was addressing the birth anniversary celebration of the Dalit icon organised by the Kerala Pulayar Maha Sabha (KPMS) and the Scheduled Castes Morcha of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Capital. “If this programme had not been organised, then people in North India would not have learnt about Mahatma Ayyankali. It is our collective responsibility to give them their due in history,’’ he said.
Detailing the life and work of Mahatma Ayyankali for the uplift of Scheduled Castes, the Prime Minister said equal opportunity alone would not bring equality. What is needed is social harmony and amity, he maintained; urging people to give up deeply entrenched biases.
For the most part of his speech, Mr. Modi donned the mantle of a teacher to tell the gathering about Mahatma Ayyankali, and how both Mahatma Gandhi and Bhim Rao Ambedkar drew inspiration from him. “The social and political awakening among the people because of social reformers like Ayyankali provided the ballast for the freedom struggle against 12 centuries of bondage.’’
The gathering had a sizable number of BJP activists who would break into a chorus of “Modi, Modi, Modi…’’ every now and then. Earlier, BJP Kerala president V. Muraleedharan said this was the first time a Prime Minister was present at such a function for Mahatma Ayyankali. However, records show that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi unveiled Ayyankali’s commemorative statue in Thiruvananthapuram in 1980. More than two decades later the Government issued a commemorative stamp in his memory in 2002.
The celebration of Mahatma Ayyankali’s birth anniversary in the Capital by the BJP along with KPMS is being seen as an effort to reach out to the oppressed classes of Kerala who have traditionally voted for the Left parties.