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Progress on Bhima-Koregaon inquiry slow, say Dalit parties

Police personnel trying to control the crowd after a clash broke out in Bhima-Koregaon on January 1.  

Pune: Ambedkarite parties have expressed concern over the allegedly tardy progress of the two-member commission set up by the State government to probe the Bhima-Koregaon clash that occurred on January 1.

The outfits, including the RPI (A), said the statements of only a handful of people were recorded during the conclusion of the first phase of the hearings in Pune, which lasted four days from October 3 to October 6.

They have demanded that the commission consisting of Justice Jai Narayan Patel, former Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, and State chief secretary Sumit Mullick, submit their report by the end of December.

On Wednesday, freelance journalist and researcher Chandrakant Patil deposed before the commission and submitted documents concerning the historical aspects leading to, and the vague nature of, the outcome of the 1818 battle between a regiment of the East India Company and the forces of the Peshwa.

Mr. Patil said caste or religion had played no part in the events leading up to the engagement. In his affidavit, Mr. Patil said the battle was the result of a sequence of events arising from the assassination of a senior court member of the rulers of Baroda (Vadodara) in 1815 by a trusted lieutenant of the Peshwas. The British saw a chance to supplant the Peshwas.

“There is no evidence to suggest that the Mahars had approached the British with an offer to help them against the Peshwas as they had been insulted by the latter or that they sought freedom from any sort of caste discrimination,” Mr. Patil said.

Objecting to Mr. Patil’s claims, RPI (A) leader Siddharth Dhende said time is being wasted on the submission of a self-styled researcher whose deposition is irrelevant to the immediate question of the riots.

“While I don’t wish to point fingers, the commission ideally ought to have recorded the statements of those directly affected by the clashes in the first phase of the hearings. Why is so much precious time being wasted on the testimony of someone like Mr. Patil? The materials that he has submitted to support his contention are already present in the public domain,” Dr. Dhende told The Hindu.

The objective behind the judicial commission, Dr. Dhende said, is to probe who instigated the January 1 clash. “If only four or five persons have been examined by the commission so far, then the hearings could well drag on for another six months. By that time, the elections will be round the corner and the issue will be hanging fire,” Dr. Dhende, who was a member of an unofficial coordination committee set up by the police in the aftermath of the clashes, said.

On Saturday, the sarpanch of Vadhu Budruk, Rekha Shivale, told the commission that the gram panchayat office has no record of the samadhi of Govind Ganapat Gaikwad, a Mahar who is claimed by the Dalit community to have performed the last rites of the slain Maratha King Sambhaji (Shivaji’s son).

Ms. Shivale said while the panchayat has records of the samadhis of Chhatrapati Sambhaji, his aide, the poet Kavi Kalash, and the documents of historical shrines in the area, there is no such record of Gaikwad’s samadhi which might have come up in the last two years.

Two days before the Bhima-Koregaon clash, a dispute broke out between upper caste Marathas and Dalits in Vadhu Budruk on December 29 last year over a rudimentary plaque erected near the tomb of Gaikwad.

Dalits believe Gaikwad had defied Mughal emperor Aurangzeb to perform the last rites of Sambhaji after the latter was tortured and murdered by Aurangzeb in 1689, and had paid with his life for this deed.

However, Marathas of Vadhu-Budruk claim the Mahars’ account is a distortion of history and that it was their ancestors — Shivale Deshmukh alias Bapuji Buva and his wife Padmavati — who performed Sambhaji’s final rites.

Dr. Dhende said, “The Vadhu Budruk gram panchayat, which is dominated by Marathas, has tampered with documents Prahlad Gaikwad, who owns the land on which the samadhi is situated. The tomb of Govind Ganpat, along with those of other Mahar soldiers who had fought the Bhima-Koregaon battle, has been present in the village for nearly 150 years. The gram panchayat members are attempting to distort history through such [Ms. Shivale’s] testimonies.”

Meanwhile, the Republican Yuva Morcha’s State president, Rahul Dambale, has moved an application before the commission demanding that it complete its work before December 25.

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