Delhi Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam, whose resignation the BJP is demanding for denigrating Hinduism while converting 10,000 Hindus to Buddhism, is not in the eye of a storm for the first time. Earlier this year, the Arvind Kejriwal government had divested him of the Woman and Child Development portfolio amid widespread protests by anganwadi workers in the capital.
Rajendra Pal Gautam joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in 2014 and fought the Delhi assembly election from Seemapuri constituency in 2015. He won the seat again in the next assembly election. He currently heads the Delhi government’s departments of Social Welfare, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Welfare, Registrar of Cooperatives and Gurudwara Elections.
This is Rajendra Pal Gautam's second term as the head of the social welfare department in the last term. It is one of the most ambitious programmes of the AAP government to woo Scheduled Castes with the Jai Bheem Mukhyamantri Pratiba Vikas Yojana. It was started under the charge of this controversial politician.
Under the scheme, free coaching for IIT JEE, NEET and other competitive exams is provided to children from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. About 4,900 students enrolled for the free coaching classes in the beginning, and currently around 15,000 are enrolled in various courses.
Rajendra Pal Gautam was born in Ghonda in north-east Delhi. He practised law and was also a social activist before joining mainstream politics. He completed law from Delhi University. He used to teach about 450 children from poor families, apart from working on reducing addiction among the youth, AAP sources said.
Rajendra Pal Gautam claims to have worked also for the uplift of so-called Dalits. He 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,” said an AAP activist.
Rajendra Pal Gautam used to run an NGO called Partivartan. Currently, he runs an organisation called Mission Jai Bhim.
The 5 October event at Ambedkar Bhavan, which is now at the centre of a row, was held under the aegis of Mission Jai Bhim, says a tweet by Rajendra Pal Gautam. “Today… more than 10,000 intellectuals took a pledge to make India free of caste and untouchability,” he wrote.
At the event, the Buddhist evangelist is seen on stage as attendees take an oath that they would not pray to Hindu gods and goddesses such as Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, Rama, Krishna, Gauri and Ganpati. These are part of the 22 vows BR Ambedkar had administered to his followers, the AAP MLA claims.
“If I believe in Buddhism, what is wrong with that? If the BJP has to complain, they can. The Constitution of India gives us the freedom to follow any religion. The BJP is losing ground and it is afraid of the Aam Aadmi Party,” Rajendra Pal Gautam said later.
BJP demands resignation of Rajendra Pal Gautam
The BJP said the conversion event was a bid to spread disharmony in the city. Delhi BJP MP Manoj Tiwari went as far as to call it an organised attempt to spread riots. “This is the anti-Hindu image of Arvind Kejriwal, who is trying to divide and rule in the city.”
“Buddhists are non-violent people, but what the AAP minister is doing is an attempt to spread hatred in the community,” Manoj Tiwari said.
BJP spokesperson Harish Khurana reacted to the video, saying, “This is the duplicity of the Aam Aadmi Party. In the state where elections are held, Arvind Kejriwal does not get tired of saying Jai Shri Ram and Jai Shri Krishna. But when it’s over, their true face comes out, which is abusing Hindu gods and goddesses.”
There has been no official statement from the AAP or the Delhi government on the issue.