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President Ram Nath Kovind lays foundation stone for Ambedkar memorial in Uttar Pradesh

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President of India Ram Nath Kovind laid the foundation stone of a memorial for Bhimrao Ambedkar being built by the BJP-ruled UP government in Lucknow on Tuesday, consisting of a statue and a cultural centre, in what was seen as a major symbolical outreach program by the Yogi government for Dalits.

In February, prime minister Narendra Modi had also laid the foundation stone of a statue of King Suheldev in Bahraich, which was seen as a move by the BJP in UP to associate closely with the OBC Rajbhar community who consider themselves descendants of the warrior king.

The ceremony on Tuesday prompted a backlash from Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati who called the move “theatrics” and one that was solely meant for electoral gains ahead of polls.

Kovind, the second Dalit president of India, was in Lucknow after visiting his hometown in Paraunkh in Kanpur. In his address, he said the city Lucknow- called Babasaheb’s ‘Sneh-bhoomi’ has a special association with Ambedkar as Bodhanand ji, whom he considered his guru, as well as Bhadant Pragyanand, who initiated him- both had their residence in Lucknow.

The memorial for Ambedkar, that will come up in Aishbagh over 1.34 acre, will consist of a statue and a cultural centre which will also house a library, a musuem, to encourage research about the Dalit icon and the father of the Constitution. It will also consist of a dormitary and a cafeteria for tourists, said a presentation by the state government on the foundation stone laying ceremony.

Mayawati said the BSP is not against building of cultural centres for Ambedkar but doing it for electoral gains is “pure deceit”. It would have been better had the UP government finished this project earlier and the president was called for its inauguration and not foundation stone-laying, she said.

Professor Badri Narayan Tiwari, director of the GB Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad said, “It is a symbolic move aimed at the Dalit community. While symbolism alone does not work and has to be coupled with representation, it also holds true the other way round- despite representation, you also need symbolism to create a perception which holds key in politics,” Tiwari told ET.

While its alliance with Apna Dal, that has a considerable sway over pockets of eastern UP in the Kurmi community that falls in the OBC category, the UP government has also sought to give representation to most backward castes by sending Jaiprakash Nishad and Gita Shakya to the Rajya Sabha in the state.

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