New Delhi(PTI): Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Monday chaired a meeting to finalise programmes for year-long celebration of 125th birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar as the party intends to reach out to Dalits in a bid to recover lost ground after a string of electoral reverses.
Party Vice President Rahul Gandhi, who is Co-Chairperson of the Committee to finalise plans for the commemoration, was not present in the meeting. Tuesday is the 125th anniversary of the architect of the Indian Constitution. Sources in the party maintain that Rahul had not returned to the national capital till last night and was not scheduled to participate in the meeting as such.
The Committee which is headed by the Congress President and has former Union minister Sushilkumar Shinde as its vice- chairperson deliberated at length over the plans. The manifesto for Dalit empowerment prepared by the party during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls will serve as a guiding principle in future plans, the sources said. The party has announced that the Congress Vice President, who had gone on a sudden sabbatical over six weeks ago, will be attending the April 19 Kisan-Khet Mazdoor rally of the party.
Rahul Gandhi will also be participating in the programmes to commemorate Ambedkar's anniversary once he is back. Congress plans to hold national level programmes at Mhow, Mumbai and Nagpur, places connected with Ambedkar's legacy. In Mumbai, it will be a Chintan Baithak, which will discuss the measures needed to empower and address social discrimination faced by marginalised sections.
"In the Chintan Baithak, we will discuss what had been our promises to Dalits and what we have delivered on them. We will introspect what we could not do and how we should be empowering Dalits and address their problems," Chairman of the AICC Scheduled Caste Department K Raju said. The party is also organising an event at Mhow, the birthplace of Ambedkar, tomorrow, for which AICC will send its senior leaders.
Congress' state units will also organise similar programmes at their headquarters.
Apart from the symbolism, some major changes are also underway in Congress to elevate Dalit leaders in states. Rahul Gandhi has expressed the view many times in the past in party's internal meetings that non-emergence of strong Dalit leaders from the party fold was the main reason that the community was looking for leadership elsewhere. Gandhi is learnt to have said in an internal meeting that rather than it being the drift of Dalits from Congress, it has been a case of Congress in many states drifting away from Dalits.