Why a Military Battle Is Being Converted into Political Campaign Through Misleading Narratives: Koregaon Bhima Battle

Maratha force -approximately 28000 in number, consisted of Marathas, Gosain and Arabs. Some variation in numbers can be found in different narratives.

NewsBharati    31-Dec-2022 11:20:53 AM   
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Every year on 01 Jan, significant number of people gather at the “Victory Pillar” at Koregaon Bhima to commemorate the fallen soldiers in battle of Koregaon which was fought and culminated at this place on 01 Jan 1818. This battle was part of Anglo Maratha war in which East India company troops-Bombay Native Infantry Regiment was led by Capt. FP Staunton and the Maratha side was led by Peshwa Baji Rao II.
East India Company forces were total 828 Infantrymen, out of which 500 were Mahar, rest were Marathas, Rajput, Muslims and Jews. Officers were Britishers only.
Maratha force -approximately 28000 in number, consisted of Marathas, Gosain and Arabs. Some variation in numbers can be found in different narratives.
Marathas fought an offensive battle but could not breach the defences put forth by East India Company . Since Britishers were already in possession of Pune, Marathas were on retreat so this battle was considered a loss for them though it ended in stalemate.
Memorial was erected by Britishers in 1851.It has names of 49 company soldiers on it, out of which 22 are Mahar. Britishers stopped the recruitment of Mahar in 1893 which was always a point of contention with Mahar who considered themselves as a martial race. Peshwas did not recruit them in Maratha Army, hence they opted for East India Company force.
How the Mahar look at this occasion. They celebrate it as a victory day. A victory of Mahar against Maratha Army which primarily consisted of upper caste. Maratha Army did consist of troops of other caste and race also. Even Arab troops were there. Now look at the Bombay Native Infantry Regiment, who were the officers? British only.
This Regiment did not belong to British crown but to East India Company, Mahar fought for them, under British leadership but neither the regiment nor the victory belonged to Mahar. This victory did help the Britishers to establish their empire in Western part of India but what Mahar got it in return. The Memorial at Koregaon Bhima was erected in 1851 but British crown stopped the recruitment of Mahar in their Army in 1893. Mahar were used as a tool only. In fact, Bombay Native Infantry Regiment was converted into First Grenadiers and not into Mahar Regiment.
Nothing unusual happened on the memorial subsequently till Dr BR Ambedkar visited the place on 28 Dec 1928 and many following suit by visiting this memorial on 01 Jan every year.
Violence took place on 01 Jan 2018 and since then more people have started visiting the place on 01 Jan every year and started claiming it as a Mahar victory against Marathas which is not true. In military terms it was a stalemate but a victory for East India Company if holistic view of the third Anglo Maratha War is taken. If you see the social media, you will find people mentioning that 500 Mahar defeated 25000 of Marathas which is not true. As a matter of fact, Marathas retreated because they expected larger British reinforcement. This is from Wikipedia.
“Out of the 834 Company troops, 275 were killed, wounded or missing. The dead included two officers — Assistant-Surgeon Wingate and Lieutenant Chisholm; Lieutenant Pattison later died of his wounds in Shirur.[3] Among the infantrymen, 50 were killed and 105 wounded. Among the artillery, 12 were killed and 8 were wounded.[13] The dead Company soldiers of Indian origin included 22 Mahars, 16 Marathas, 8 Rajput, 2 Muslims, and 1-2 Jews.[17][20]
According to the British estimates, around 500 to 600 of Peshwa's soldiers were killed or wounded in the battle.[3]”
Now to celebrate this as a victory of Mahar against oppression by Marathas is totally misleading. This is from Wikipedia.
“The Dalit scholar Anand Teltumbde has argued that portraying the Battle of Bhima Koregaon as the battle of Mahar against their caste oppression in Peshwa rule is misleading. Teltumbde mentions that most of those died in the battle (27 out of 49) were not Mahar, and the Peshwa army actually retreated fearing the arrival of a larger British force. Thus, he considers painting of the battle as "Mahar' against the Peshwas' Brahmanical rule" to be misleading.[35]”
So, who is projecting this occasion as a victory against oppression and tyranny of Marathas/ Peshwas and What is the purpose? Britishers achieved the purpose of dividing Indian society along the caste lines even after they left. Majority of the soldiers who died did not belong to Mahar. A military battle has been converted into political battle by the vested interests with a false narrative of Mahar versus higher castes? Whose interest it will serve? It will serve the interest of anti-national forces. The entire purpose of this narrative is to divide the Hindu society and widen the fault lines which certainly require healing touch by our leaders.
Leftist liberals have joined these forces? Were they in support of British East India company who gained after this battle? Even in the present narrative, would Mahar like to accept that they supported a colonial force against a nationalist force even when they wanted to prove a point against Marathas.
Let it remain a simple military campaign which so many Army units celebrate rather than converting into political campaign. Mahar will need to rethink about celebrating their support of colonial power against a nationalist force.
Number of visitors on 01 Jan to this memorial keep increasing and most of the people are not even aware of the basic facts of this battle. Mahar did not gain any political or social legitimacy out of this battle. In fact, now they are being misused by so many vested interests for political purpose. Indian Army did accept their martial race point by having independent Mahar Regiment which was denied to them by Britishers in 1893. In the interest of national interest one should look at facts holistically and not narrow the narrative to deepen fault lines in our social fabric.

Col Virendra Kumar

Col Virendra Kumar, a Military Veteran with 27 years of Army , alumni of Pantnagar, IIM Bangalore , Symbiosis Pune ,wears multiple hats . He has got national and international exposure during his Army tenures and corporate stint with leading US MNC He is passionate about Military history , Indian history , national and international affairs .