Buddhist monks attend a mass conversion rally at Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai on Sunday Mumbai: It is widely known that the man who led the great exercise of drafting India's Constitution. B R Ambedkar, wanted to turn a Sikh at one stage. It is a pity that those entrusted with spreading the message of Sikhism are doing precious little, resulting in others filling the vaccum as the caste-based heirarchical structure of Hinduism and the jingoistic terminology of the saffron communalists pushes many downtrodden away. In a move that may have a long-term effect on national politics, thousands of tribals and Dalits converted to Buddhism at a massive gathering in Mumbai on Sunday, to escape the rigid Hindu caste system. Though the number of people present at Mahalaxmi Race Course was a little less than the expected figure of 100,000, it was definitely one of the biggest mass conversions in modern Indian history. In the past few years, thousands of Dalits and tribals have converted to Buddhism in different parts of the country, a move seen by political observers as an assertion of their identity that is influencing politics in a big way. India's Times of India newspaper reported that buses loaded with Dalits and tribals began on Sunday to roll into the grounds surrounded by glass-and-steel highrises in the country’s financial hub. Men, women and children from 42 different castes brought to Mumbai by Dalit writer Laxman Mane sat quietly throughout the day waiting for the moment they would be initiated into Buddhism. By evening, their number had swelled to at least 50,000. Speeches by Buddhist leaders like Rahul Bodhi marked the occasion which initiated hundreds of new converts into the Buddhist fold. Organised by Babasaheb Ambedkar Pratishthan, the rally was just not a simple religious ceremony, it was also a show of strength by Maharashtra’s Dalit leader, Ramdas Athawale, who time and again is at loggerheads with other leaders in the country to claim Ambedkar’s true legacy. Although the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, who was supposed to lead the ‘‘largest religious conversion in modern India’’, could not make it to the ceremony, there was a huge gathering of Buddhist monks in their maroon robes from different parts of India, as well as from other countries. And, the absence of the world’s best-known Buddhist monk did not dampen the spirits of the people taking refuge in Buddhism as a symbol of turning their backs on caste discrimination and oppression. Fringe Hindu elements are widely expected to raise noise about the conversions. Many states have passed laws making it very difficult to convert religion despite the Constitutional gurantees to do so.