THE #BHIMAKOREGAON INCIDENT : EXPOSING THE DIVISIVE CONGRESS PLOT
- Dayanand Nene
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is a regular tweeter. But little did he know what was in store ahead of him when he tweeted and wished the people of the state a very Happy New Year 2018.
Maharashtra did not have a happy beginning in 2018.
On January 1, new year’s day, Dalit organisations in Pune had organized a ‘Yalgar Parishad ‘ to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle. The organisers had invited two controversial people – Jignesh Mevani and Umar Khalid to address the meeting and as expected they made provocative speeches on the occasion.
Post the meeting, miscreants were at work and a purported rift between a Dalit group and some locals, saw the incident turn violent.
The clashes increased on January 2, when they spread to outside Pune. Miscreants were up in arms and carried banners, and stopped everyone on the way, near Bhima Koregaon - they called it ‘Rasta Roko'. On January 3, Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar gave a call for Maharashtra Bandh and the protests became violent and it affected other parts of Maharashtra.
Why are the Dalits protesting and what were they commemorating in Pune?
It all began in 1818 with the war between the British Army and the Peshwas. So we have to go back in time and look at the whole scenario: There are many versions being spread as facts. One of the version is:
The Battle of Koregaon was fought on 1 January 1818 between the British East India Company and the Peshwas. It is said that a 28,000-strong force led by Peshwa Baji Rao II were on their way to attack the company-held Pune to recapture it,, were unexpectedly met by an 800-strong Company force that was on its way to reinforce the British troops in Pune.
The Peshwas dispatched around 2,000 soldiers to attack the force which sought refuge in Koregaon. Led by Captain Francis Staunton, the Company troops defended their position for nearly 12 hours. before the Peshwa's troops ultimately withdrew, fearing the imminent arrival of a larger British force.
Neither side achieved a decisive victory in the battle. Shortly after the battle, Nevertheless, the East India Company government praised the bravery of its troops, who could not be overpowered by the Peshwas, despite being outnumbered.
The battle is one of the last ones to be fought in the Third Anglo-Maratha War has since come to be remembered as a Company victory after the war ended with Peshwa's defeat.
There is a "victory pillar" (obelisk) in Koregaon commemorating the battle.
To commemorate its fallen soldiers, the Company commissioned a "victory pillar" (an obelisk) in Koregaon. The inscription of the pillar declares that Captain Staunton's force "accomplished one of the proudest triumphs of the British Army in the East."
Significance to Mahar Soldiers
The Koregaon pillar inscription features the names of the 49 Company soldiers killed in the battle. 22 of these names end with the suffix - NAK, which was used exclusively by the people of Mahar caste. The obelisk was featured on the Mahar Regiment's crest until India became Independent.
While it was built by the British as a symbol of their own power, today it serves as a memorial of the Mahars.
Every January 1, Dalits, mainly Mahars, congregate at Bhima Koregaon to pay respects at the Vijay Stambh, or victory memorial, there. It is an article of faith for them. The term often used in these parts for that event is “Peshwai gadhli” - the Peshwa regime has been buried. In 1927, BR Ambedkar paid tribute here to Mahar soldiers on New Year’s Day, and the practice has continued every year since.
The usually peaceful celebrations at the Bhima Koregaon village every year to commemorate the battle of 1818, took an unusually violent turn on January 1.
The violence in Pune resulted in the death of one and vandalizing of several vehicles that were stranded on the Pune highway for hours.
The subsequent details about the violence and vandalism have been aptly covered by the media and the Maharashtra CM has ordered a judicial inquiry and hence, we will not go into the details.
Sinister plot of the Congress to divide the society into caste lines
What we are going to do is to expose a sinister plot of the Congress to divide the society into caste lines in its effort to corner the BJP.
The origins of the Bhima Koregaon incident lies in many entangled threads: consolidation of Dalits, intense rivalry and competition for leadership among their leaders – who are divided into different factions, the uneasy relations between Dalits and Marathas, historical events and their symbolism in present times, the re-assertion of Dalit identity and to use it as a tool for political mobilization by the Congress, ahead of the 2019 national elections.
Somewhere in this action-reaction cycle, selectively amplified by the opposition parties and sections of the media, it is easy to confuse the chronology of events.
On the 200th anniversary of the battle this year, lakhs of Dalits were expected at Bhima-Koregaon. In fact, the celebrations began on December 31st, with an event called the “Yalgar Parishad” in Pune’s Shaniwarwada, the seat of the erstwhile Peshwa empire. The organisers, the Bhima Koregaon Shourya Divas Abhiyan, invited Dalit activist-turned-MLA from Gujarat Jignesh Mevani, Radhika Vemula (mother of Rohith Vemula a Dalit student who became famous after his suicide in 2016), and JNU leader Umar Khalid – of the ‘Bharat ke tukde tukde karo’ fame - to participate.
When Babasaheb Ambedkar termed the Battle of Bhima Koregaon as the battle of Mahar soldiers against their caste oppression in Peshwa rule, he was creating a pure myth – a story that was required to build the Dalit movement, he perhaps saw its necessity then.
Little would he have dreamt that the same myth – the story would, a hundred years later become a reason that today’s power hungry politicians from the Congress, would use to create a rift in the society.
The new Peshwai?
Clandestinely supported by the Congress, many Dalit organisations recently formed a joint front to observe the 200th anniversary of this battle as a campaign to launch an attack on ‘the new Peshwai’, an oblique reference to the Devendra Fadnavis led BJP Govt.
There is no evidence that after the defeat of Peshwai, 200 years ago, there was an improvement in the lives of the Mahars.
As a matter of fact, under British rule, their caste oppression continued unabated. The ungrateful British stopped the recruitment of Mahars to the army, refusing to acknowledge their past bravery.
It then made sense for Babasaheb Ambedkar to visit the memorial at Bhima Koregaon - since he belonged to the same caste community (Mahars). But Ambedkar’s politics was very progressive, and he would be the last person to want to divide the country.
There is certainly clandestine political backing to the Bhima Koregaon incident and the subsequent bandh. And the needle of suspicion points towards the Congress / NCP combine. The combine has been out of power since 201 and all their efforts to dislodge the BJP Govt. have miserably failed in the past 3 years.
They tried the Maratha morchas – for reservations, farmers’ loan waiver agitations – but failed. The BJP under the able leadership of Devendra Fadnavis simply outwitted them in election after election in the past 3 years.
For their plan 2019?
The Congress seems to have realized that if under its leadership, the Maratha and Dalit groups join forces politically, they stand a chance to counter the BJP’s election juggernaut, as was the case in Gujarat last month.
Make no mistake - this Dalit unrest is completely planned by Congress for their plan 2019. And very soon they will try to convert it into a Dalit vs. BJP. Look at media – it has already started saying "right wing" vs Dalits. The language is carefully chosen to make it BJP vs Dalit - essentially to create the split in the votes.
In Gujarat, they tried to fuel a caste divide - Patels through reservation game; Dalits through Mewani, Muslims through hard-line Islamists. Remember, Mewani had relations with Simi and PFI.
That is why the likes of Jignesh Mevani and Umar Khalid invited for a small regional event.
Mewani and Omar Khalid came to Maharashtra to fuel the anti BJP sentiment amongst Dalits.
The Congress is eyeing the 84 reserved seats in the Country. The Congress is paying special attention to these constituencies. They are trying to identify who are the candidates who have the confidence of Dalits as well as non-Dalits and what are the issues in those constituencies that need to be addressed.
Congress' counter to BJP's mission 2019 is Reservations. It will be one of the main issues. They will tell Dalits that BJP has its own plan to do away with the constitution and they have already started undoing the reservation.
Like during the Gujarat campaign, they will boast that during Congress' rule in Centre and states, the party got many plans, schemes, program and legislation that provided access to education, health services, employment and land to Dalits.
An issue on which Congress will try to corner BJP will include fund allocation. According to them, in the current three and half years of BJP rule, Centre's fund allocation has come down. The present government has dropped the important SC policies.
The strategy would include spreading the message that all issues concerning Dalits are not being given due importance by the BJP.
But the Congress plan is bound to fail as Dalit assertion is not a monolithic process. Dalits are not a singular caste. Many castes constitute what we call the Dalit community. Each of them has their own politics. Most of the time, their leaders are in conflict with each other.
There are regional dimensions to Dalit assertion. The movement in Maharashtra is different from the movement in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.
Mayawati has said if she isn’t given proper political space, she’ll convert to Buddhism. This is a veiled warning, which also asserts her Hindu identity. However the reality is that the day Mayawati converts, she will lose her political capital in Uttar Pradesh. Contrary to this, most Dalits in Maharashtra are already Buddhists. So as per Congress assertion, a Dalit-Buddhist leader may have a successful future in Maharashtra.
With Mevani now in the equation, it is clear that the alignment of forces is in preparation for state Assembly elections over the next year as well as the 2019 general elections.
Hardcore Ambedkarites see Mevani as a Left-leaning ideologue “mixing Ambedkar with Marx”, and therefore veteran Dalit leaders are nervous about his popularity. Besides, Mevani has a lot to learn about Dalit politics in Maharashtra. But all said, the Bhima Koregaon story has catapulted him to centre-stage already.
*The author is a political analyst.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of NewsBharati.