The 205th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle passed without incident as lakhs of Ambedkarites from across Maharashtra and the country congregated near the Ranstambh (victory pillar) in Perne village in Pune district on Sunday under heavy security cover.
Crowds have been steadily milling in Bhima-Koregaon since Saturday evening to pay floral tributes to the bravery of the Mahar soldiers who fought against the Peshwa forces in the 1818 battle.
Keeping an ever-vigilant eye to avoid any recrudescence of the violence during the bicentenary celebrations of the battle in 2018, the Pune Rural Police strictly monitored social media, deleting over 100 posts found to contain provocative content with the possible aim of rupturing peace. There was a robust deployment of 7,000 security personnel on the ground to ensure the event passed off without any hitch.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar, in a tweet in Marathi, said the battle of Koregaon Bhima was historically significant because “it was a fight against untouchability, and for self-respect and equality”. “On this occasion of Koregaon Bhima Shaurya Din, I pay my respects to martyrs who fought with their life in the battle for self-respect,” Mr. Pawar said.
His daughter, NCP leader and Baramati MP Supriya Sule, said that the battle and the victory had become “a voice of identity for the downtrodden”.
Several prominent politicians, including Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) chief Prakash Ambedkar, Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale, and NCP MLA Jitendra Awhad visited the site.
“Lakhs of followers visit this place every year…It is important that this heritage is preserved and this history is cherished. Expansion of the memorial premises is needed and for that, the acquisition of an additional 100 acres of land is required. We are taking efforts in this direction and a preliminary plan has been prepared,” Mr. Athawale said, adding that he would be meeting Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in this regard.
A conspicuous absence on the occasion was that of Pune district Guardian Minister Chandrakant Patil, who recently endured an “ink attack” by his detractors. While he paid his respects to Ambedkar at his residence, Mr. Patil, in a press statement, said, “I have received the threat of an ink attack if I visit the memorial. I am walking on the path of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s thoughts, thus I am even ready to take bullets on my chest. However, some people wish that there should be an untoward incident or communal riots there. As scores of people go there with lot of devotion, their safety and security is important for me. So, I have decided not to go there.”
The ‘Jaystambh’ is obelisk in Bhima-Koregaon village commemorates the British East India Company soldiers who fell in a battle on January 1, 1818, where the British, with just 834 infantrymen — about 500 of them from the Mahar community — and 12 officers defeated the 28,000-strong army of Peshwa Bajirao II. It was one of the last battles of the Third Anglo-Maratha War, which ended the Peshwa domination.
While the outcome of the Koregaon-Bhima battle was inconclusive, Babasaheb Ambedkar’s visit to the spot on January 1, 1927, revitalised its memory for the Dalit community, making it a rallying point and an assertion of pride.
The 2018 clashes, which heightened social tensions across the State while its reverberations were felt throughout the country, resulted in massive destruction of property belonging to Ambedkarite members.
Since then, Ambedkarite outfits have accused the State police of dragging their feet over investigations into the clashes under the watch of the erstwhile Devendra Fadnavis-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. Outfits like the Pune-based Republican Yuva Morcha (RYM) have charged the former BJP regime of shielding the alleged perpetrators of the violence, including radical Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide.