Groaning under the weight of anti-incumbency in an uphill battle in the Mumbai- Thane region, the Congress tried to fall back on its fraying, yet tried and tested Muslim- Dalit social combination to shore up its fortunes in the region. While Muslims turned up in large numbers at Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi's rally at the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) on Sunday, successive Congress speakers invoked the name of Dalit icon Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.
In an attempt to strike a chord with Dalits, especially Buddhist Dalits who form a substantial number in all six Lok Sabha seats in Mumbai, Congress leaders charged that if elected to power, the BJP's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi would alter the Constitution of India, which had been framed by Ambedkar, who overcame caste oppression and an adverse social order to draft India's social contract after Independence. Mumbai Congress chief Janardhan Chandurkar, who is a Dalit, charged that the BJP and Modi had "taken a vow to change the constitution framed by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar" and said Rahul would be a bulwark against such attempts. Claiming that Rahul had said "beat me to death but I will change the system," Chandurkar drew parallels with Ambedkar who held a peaceful satyagraha at Mahad in Raigad for the Dalits or untouchables as they were known then to draw water from the Chavdar lake and had not resorted to violence despite atrocities by upper castes opposed to the move.
"The BJP believes in caste and creed," said Chandurkar, who also gave Rahul a memento-- a copy of India's Constitution which Dalits hold sacrosanct for its protection of civil rights and abolition of social ills like untouchability--alleging that the principal opposition party was doling out false promises to people. He called on the people to defeat the opponents of the Congress. Former MP Jogendra Kawade, who leads his faction of the Republican Party of India, charged Modi and the BJP with trying to "erect a wall of caste and communalism."
The veteran of the 'Namantar' movement, which called for the naming of the Marathwada university after Ambedkar, referred to Rahul as the "heartbeat of the youth of the country" and alleged that "the BJP and the Satan named Modi wanted to destroy the Constitution." In a Hindi speech laced with Urdu couplets, Kawade alleged that if elected, Modi would lead the country's vivisection. Even as chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said that the people of Mumbai and Maharashtra had the responsibility of stopping "communal parties" from marching into power, union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, one of the Dalit mascots of the Congress, credited the Congress as the party which stood by Dalits, tribals, workers and minorities.