Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A hollow memorial

If it hadn't been for the Mahatma, Babasaheb Ambedkar could have been the undisputed voice of the downtrodden. He was for creating separate electorates for the 'untouchables', a move that Gandhi opposed vehemently. The British, sensing an opportunity to splinter the freedom movement, went ahead and announced the creation of such electorates. The Congress however managed to bring Ambedkar around to accepting 'reserved seats'. Despite such run-ins with the senior members of the Congress, Ambedkar was appointed by independent India's first government to Chair the Constitution Drafting Committee - a task that he completed with a great deal of distinction.

This Mani Mandapam, or memorial, to Dr. Ambedkar was inaugurated in June 2000. It remains empty most of the time, with little inside the dome besides a few photographs of Ambedkar with some of his contemporary reformist leaders in Tamil Nadu. There is nothing inside which brings out the breadth of the man's thoughts and actions. In that sense, it is less of a memorial but more of a meeting place, where those who claim his legacy come to hold forth a few times every year.

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