New Delhi: Recently appointed as chief of a premier government-funded art centre in Delhi, Ram Bahadur Rai on Tuesday stoked a controversy by questioning Dr BR Ambedkar's role in framing of the Constitution and describing it as a "myth".
A former general secretary of the ABVP, the BJP affiliated student organisation, Rai was quoted as saying in an interview to a weekly magazine that Ambedkar did not write the Constitution.
Rai, who was appointed as Chairman of Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) in April, was quoted by 'Outlook' as having said that Ambedkar's role was limited and that whatever material BN Rau, a civil servant, gave to him, Ambedkar would correct the language.
"So, Ambedkar did not write the Constitution. In fact, he said, if the Constitution is ever to be set afire, then 'I will be first to do so,'" Rai said.
Asked if Ambedkar's role was then a myth, Rai replied, "Yes, myth hai, myth hai, myth hai (yes, it is a myth, it is a myth, it is a myth). It is part of identity politics."
Rai immediately came under attack with BJP's Scheduled Caste Morcha chief Dushyant Kumar Gautam condemning the controversial comments, saying they amounted to insulting Ambedkar and are a hurdle in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Dalit outreach.
When contacted, Rai denied giving any such interview, claiming it was a "breach of journalistic ethics".
Attacking Rai, Gautam said, "Those who are saying so are doing it without any thinking and it seems they have some malice and enmity against the Scheduled Castes and the concept of social justice."
"This is the reason otherwise such statements would not have been made. If Ambedkar was from upper castes, then they would not made such comments," he added.
Asked about Rai's comments, Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma said he was not aware of the content of the interview. The interview quoted Rai as saying that the Constitution needs to be reconsidered afresh.
"This Constitution is a haven for lawyers. Lawyers wrote it, the kind with no connection to India's nature or culture. This does not mean that they were not desh bhakts, or learned or that they did not want a good Constitution. But they were trapped in circumstances, which is why the Constitution they came up with became, broadly, a new testament of our gulaami (slavery)," Rai said, according to the interview.
He said some "myths" have been created in the country and one is that the Constitution is like a "temple idol" nobody can touch.
"Some people feel, if the Constitution is tampered with, what will happen to the dreams of Babasaheb Ambedkar. But people to represent Babasaheb's dreams are in this Parliament, so this danger does not exist," he said.
Rai's controversial comments come at a time when BJP has been making vigorous attempts to win over politically crucial SC community to its side ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls.
Gautam called Ambedkar the "foremost patriot" and claimed that people like Rai were "concerned" over Modi's attempts to attach the Dalit community with BJP.
"The way and speed with which Modi is working to create social harmony and taking everybody along has caused concern among some people," he said.
Asked for his comments, BJP Vice President Vinay Sahasrabuddhe said Ambedkar continues to be "supremely important icon" of the emancipation of downtrodden sections of society, especially Dalits.
"Whatever way people may assess him, he remains our national hero," he said.