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All About AAP’s Rajendra Pal Gautam Under Fire Over ‘Conversion’ Event

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Delhi’s AAP MLA Rajendra Pal Gautam, who resigned from the cabinet on Sunday over a “controversial” oath at a Buddhist event on October 5, only recited the 22 vows that BR Ambedkar first took when he embraced Buddhism in 1956. Little did he know that this would land him in trouble and train a spotlight on the Aam Aadmi Party, which is campaigning for the upcoming elections in BJP-ruled Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.

Known to keep a low profile otherwise, Gautam held departments of social welfare, SC/ST welfare, registrar of cooperatives and gurudwara elections. But, 2022 has not been kind to the AAP leader, who was stripped of his portfolio of women and child development earlier in the year following large-scale protests by anganwadi workers.

A lawyer by profession and a social activist before he entered politics, those who know Gautam said he was a Buddhist and an Ambedkarite activist. He was born in Northeast Delhi’s Ghonda and joined the AAP in 2014. He fought the 2015 assembly elections from Seemapuri assembly segment and defeated the BJP candidate by over 40,000 votes. He was re-elected in 2020 and remains the MLA from Seemapuri.

Not only this, his Ambedkarite credentials gain in strength from the fact that chief minister Arvind Kejriwal appointed him as the incharge of the ambitious ‘Jai Bheem Mukhyamantri Pratiba Vikas Yojana’. The AAP has worked hard to project legendary Dalit leader Ambedkar as being one of the party’s driving forces alongside freedom fighter and known atheist Bhagat Singh. So much so, that Kejriwal even has a life-sized portrait of Ambedkar inside his official residence and ensures that his photograph hangs alongside Bhagat Singh’s behind him every time he records a political address.

The Delhi government’s ‘Jai Bheem’ scheme offers free coaching for IIT-JEE, NEET and other competitive entrance examinations to SC/ST children. At present, close to 15,000 students are enrolled in different courses offered under the scheme.

Gautam is armed with a law degree from Delhi University and has operated non-government organisations working for underprivileged families – from teaching children to fighting drug abuse and addiction. According to a report by The Indian Express, those who know the AAP leader said Gautam joined the AAP impressed by “Kejriwal’s ideology”. Even now, he is the founder of an organisation called ‘Mission Jai Bheem’, which collaborated with Buddhist Society of India to organise the ‘deeksha’ event on October 5 that ran into controversy and was touted as an “anti-Hindu” event by the opposition BJP.

The report stated that Gautam was awarded the Samata Sainik Dal’s Dr Ambedkar Award in 2017. “He joined AAP after being impressed by Kejriwal’s ideology in 2014, and fought the elections in 2015,” a party member was quoted as saying.

On the day of the event, where 10,000 people embraced Buddhism and took an oath of Ambedkar’s 22 vows, Gautam tweeted: “Today… more than 10,000 intellectuals took a pledge to make India free of caste and untouchability.”

But, on the day of his resignation, Gautam projected an image of a leader “hurt” by the reactions to the event. He clarified that he had not hurt anyone’s sentiments and that he was not under any pressure to resign from his own party.

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