Rajratna Ambedkar, the president of the Buddhist Society of India who administered the 22 vows to approximately 10,000 people on Ashoka Vijayadashami, which is considered the “Dhammachakra Pravartan Din", said the Aam Aadmi Party had no role in the conversion episode, and if the outfit is claiming that, it is false. On this day, in 1956, Dr BR Ambedkar had converted to Buddhism with a few lakh supporters.
Speaking exclusively to News18 from abroad, Rajratna Ambedkar said, “All 24 hours, you are not a minister, you have certain duties to society. On the stage of this conversion, Rajendra Pal Gautam was not invited as a minister of Aam Aadmi Party. AAP has no role in our conversion. If they are claiming that, then it is false… Rajendra Pal Gautam was invited as an Ambedkarite and Samata Sainik Dal member."
Gautam, Minister of Social Welfare in Delhi, is in the eye of a storm after videos of the event and the initiation started doing the rounds on social media and one clip, where people were asked to vow not to worship Hindu gods and goddesses, nor to follow Hindu rituals, sparked a controversy, with the BJP attacking AAP over it.
When asked to clarify how AAP had no role in the conversion when its minister was one of the organisers, Rajratna Ambedkar replied, “He (Rajendra Pal Gautam) is not working in his capacity as minister, he is working in the capacity of Jai Bhim convener. AAP has no role in our programme. If I am a minister, don’t I have a social life, don’t I have a religious standing?"
The great grand nephew of BR Ambedkar said that the Buddhist Society of India and the Jai Bhim Mission played a role in organising the event and the conversions, not only in Delhi, but also in Gujarat and Karnataka on the same day. In fact, in Maharashtra, 5 lakh people on the same day embraced Buddhism in Nagpur. “Your sentiments are not getting hurt when it is happening in Nagpur, but your sentiments are getting hurt when the Buddhist conversion is taking place in Delhi and that too only 10,000, when a larger number has embraced Buddhism in Nagpur on the same day. Because you want to project this as a political event that you can take mileage of in Gujarat elections," he said.
BJP leaders are raising this issue because of the upcoming Gujarat elections as they want to show that AAP is against Hinduism, said the Buddhist activist. “And, again, I am saying that AAP has no role in our conversion programme. We have never printed on our pamphlet that some minister is attending. He was present there in his capacity as an Ambedkarite and he did not give the 22 vows. 22 vows were given by me. He does not have any role in the 22 vows. He had only taken that. And before taking it, I had visited his residence. Also, he does not have any photos or statues of gods or deities in his home. Officially or unofficially, he was a Buddhist earlier also," he reiterated.
Asked whether the presence of the minister had given the BJP a handle to target the Aam Aadmi Party, Rajratna Ambedkar said that is solely a matter for AAP. “If AAP takes any action against Rajendra Pal Gautam, then we will also get an idea that AAP is also a stooge of the BJP. Because it is our religious right. Mr Kejriwal must give Rajendra Pal Gautam his religious right." He also asked why no one has a problem when Gautam is seen with Kejriwal in a puja, but questions are asked when he embraces Buddhism.
Hinting that the scale of the conversions across the country on October 5 was nothing compared to “mass conversion in 2025", the president of the Buddhist Society said that in that year, 10 crore people will embrace Buddhism. He also stressed that there was no force involved as many of these people are already Buddhists, even if it is unofficial and the Buddhist Society gives them a certificate that they are now officially Buddishst and also submits an affidavit to the government. “Buddhism is not included in the anti-conversion law. Even if anti-conversion law is there, nothing in the present or future can stop anyone from embracing Buddhism because Buddhism is a notified religion of India," he said.
He also asked why no questions are raised when the Prime Minister inaugurates Ram Mandir, yet the same is not followed when a minister from a government embraces Buddhism. “When the PM is inaugurating Ram Mandir, it can happen, but a minister from the government cannot take Buddhism. How come you are comparing these two? Why are you not asking the PM, that being a PM, why are you attending religious programmes and religious events? And if you cannot ask the Prime Minister, you cannot ask Rajendra Pal Gautam also," he argued.
Sharply attacking the “doublespeak" of the BJP, Rajratna Ambedkar pointed out that top leaders of the saffron party have visited Diksha Bhoomi in Nagpur. “Babasaheb Ambedkar has himself given these 22 vows, and on the same day Nitin Gadkari and Devendra Fadnavis, they visit Diksha Bhoomi and they honour Babasaheb Ambedkar for that day. And if they are honouring Babasaheb Ambedkar, they are honouring the 22 vows also. If Hindus feel that their sentiment is hurt, then the PM is supporting Babasaheb Ambedkar’s 22 vows by visiting Diksha Bhoomi."
He further argued, “On the one hand, you (BJP) are claiming that Prime Minister Modi is working on Babasaheb Ambedkar’s vision, you are inaugurating ‘Ambedkar and Modi’ book… So why are you having problems with these 22 vows? These 22 vows are published by GoI in books on Babasaheb Ambedkar. If Hindus’ sentiments are hurt, GoI must also be made a party because they have published these 22 vows."
The national president of the Buddhist Society of India, founded by Dr BR Ambedkar, reeled off many incidents in the past where Dalits have been targeted to question why the sentiments of the BJP were not hurt then. “I was asking the BJP members who are spreading misunderstanding about our conversion that Inder Meghwal in Rajasthan was beaten to death for touching a pot of water in school. At that time, their sentiment was not hurt? One IPS officer in Gujarat belonging to the Scheduled Caste Hindu community cannot sit on a horse at his wedding; he has to take police protection to sit on a horse. You are not treating Hindus equally, that is why they are coming out of the Hindu fold. We have not forced anyone, they have come on their own and this is not a meagre number. We are preparing for a mass conversion. This much number of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are not getting their equal rights. Why are they (BJP) not treating all brothers equally in Hindu religion?"
Dr BR Ambedkar believed that caste is anti-national and it is a hurdle to establishing brotherhood in India, he said. “To come out of the caste fold, Dr BR Ambedkar embraced Buddhism and Buddhism teaches fraternity. But the basic teaching of Buddha is that you should not believe in God, you should not believe in soul, and that’s why Babasaheb Ambedkar established these 22 vows after much study and research. And this is a precondition to becoming a Buddhist. Without that you cannot be a Buddhist," he explained the rationality behind the oaths.
He also had a word for the Hindu community. “My question to my Hindu brothers is that it is, no offence..are you going to say that Muslims are going to follow Ram, Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh? Are you going to ask Christians to worship their gods? Then why do you want Buddhists to worship their gods?"