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Koregaon Bhima anniversary passes off peacefully under massive security shield

Lakhs of people from Dalit community throng to war memorial site at Bhima-Koregaon on January 1, 2019.

Lakhs of people from Dalit community throng to war memorial site at Bhima-Koregaon on January 1, 2019.   | Photo Credit: Jignesh Mistry

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The ‘jay stambh’ was erected by the British as a memorial for soldiers killed in the Koregaon Bhima battle on January 1, 1818.

The 201st anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle passed off without incident as lakhs of Ambedkarites from across the State and country congregated near the Ranstambh (victory pillar) on Tuesday under heavy security cover.

Even then, the 7,000-odd security personnel struggled to cope with an estimated footfall of seven lakh persons including activists of Dalit outfits, politicos, pilgrims, soldiers, and members of Ambedkarite groups.

District administration officials estimated eight to ten lakh footfalls this year – perhaps the largest turnout of visitors since the Bhima-Koregaon Ranstambh Seva Sangh (BKRSS), which organizes the ceremony, was formed in 2005 to keep alive the memory of this episode [Dalit bravery in the Bhima-Koregaon battle] in Indian history.

Police contingents and reserve forces, deployed across a nine-km stretch from the obelisk, ensured that the crowds moved in an orderly direction towards the obelisk.

Ignoring the raw nip in the air, a sea of blue flags, chanting ‘Jai Bhim’ slogans descended upon the Bhima-Koregaon village, 30 km from Pune city.

Crowds had been steadily milling in Bhima-Koregaon since Monday evening itself amid glittering fireworks to pay floral tributes to the bravery of the Mahar soldiers who fought against the Peshwa forces in the 1818 battle.

While the outcome of the Koregaon-Bhima battle was inconclusive, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s visit to the spot on January 1, 1927, revitalized its memory for the Dalit community, making it a rallying point and an assertion of pride.

Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) chief Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, was among the first Dalit leaders to lay a wreath near the obelisk today morning.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Ambedkar said that the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ of December 31 last year had been an attempt to bridge the rift between various communities.

“Instead, the investigation conducted by the Pune City police turned the objective of the Elgaar conclave upside down. The State government targeted the men and women like retired judges B.G. Kolse-Patil, P.B. Sawant and Harshali Potdar, who were behind organizing the conference, weaving an absurd narrative of ‘urban naxalism’,” said Mr. Ambedkar, speaking to reporters.

The BBM chief remarked that instead of promoting a feeling amity between communities, the riots and the subsequent investigations have only widened the rift between the Maratha and the OBC community.

Other Dalit leaders, like Republican Party of India (RPI) chief and Union Minister Ramdas Athawale and Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’ were expected to visit the obelisk later in the day.

Internet services were suspended to prevent the spread of inflammatory messages, while a massive security detail, including drones and CCTV cameras, were in place near the tombs of the Maratha King Sambhaji and that of Govind Ganpat Mahar in Vadhu Budruk village (3.5 km from Bhima-Koregaon) – the major flashpoints leading to the Bhima-Koregaon violence last year.

“This time, we have adopted a four-pronged approach that includes crowd management, traffic flow management, maintenance of law and order situation and keeping an anti-sabotage vigil to ensure the event passes off smoothly,” said Special Inspector General of Police, Vishwas Nangare- Patil.

An air of restraint marked the occasion as politicos and outfits kept addresses and speechifying to a minimum.

Pune District Collector Nawal Kishore Ram had said that while the administration would not prevent leaders from making speeches, the police would clamp down on provocative or potentially inflammatory addresses.

Earlier, videos with messages of amity and communal harmony had been put out by both Maratha and OBC panchayat samiti members in the run-up to the event.

But despite the outward show of harmony, bitterness and unease continues to linger among the riot afflicted.

“There is has been no justice for us a year on after the riots…there has been no action against the mob that vandalized by home and burnt my shop,” said Mangal Kamble, one of the victims.

Likewise, Jaideep Sakat, who took refuge in his neighbour’s house while his home was torched, accused the police of apathy and dragging their feet over the probe.

Last week, more than 1,200 habitual offenders were taken into preventive detention by the Pune Rural Police while prohibitory orders were issued to Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, named as chief instigators of the clashes.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 11:22:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/koregaon-bhima-anniversary-security-stepped-up-as-people-pay-tributes-at-war-memorial/article25879015.ece

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