Bhima-Koregoan Attack on Dalits – the BJP Governments’ New Year Gift

The New Year witnessed mass protests in Maharashtra with Dalit organisations calling for a state-wide bandh. The call was in response to attacks on people of the Dalit community, orchestrated by right-wing organisations, gathered to celebrate the bicentenary of the Battle of Bhima – Koregoan. The attack resulted in the death of one Dalit youth, injured several others, damaged numerous vehicles and multiple instances of arson. The battle, fought on 1st January 1818 was the last battle between the British and the Peshwas. The Third Anglo-Maratha war proved to be a decisive victory for East India Company forces. The British army included a significant number of Dalits belonging to the Mahar community.

The last battle between the British and the Peshwas was at Koregaon. Commemorated annually, over the years, as Dalit victory over the brahmanical order, Bhima-Koregoan generally draws a few thousand people. This year, as a result of growing Dalit resentment against the majoritarian Hindutva agenda of the BJP government, in the state of Maharashtra and across the country, and on account of it being the 200th anniversary, the event drew nearly 350,000 people. As people flocked to the event on the 1st of January, they and the vehicles ferrying them were set upon and pelted by saffron clad right-wing partisans, whose members included the 49 persons from one village – Vadhu Budruk. All 49 have since been booked under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 for desecrating the tomb of local Dalit icon, Govind Gaikwad. Govind Gaikwad is credited with conducting the last rites of Shivaji’s son Shambhaji Bhosle since no one was willing to touch his body since it may have invited the wrath of the Mughals.

Leaders of two right-wing organisations identified as the prime provocateurs, Manohar aka Shambhaji Bhide or ‘Bhide Gurji’ of the Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan and Milind Ekbote of the Hindu Ekta (Aaghadi) Manch, have been booked by the Pune Police for inciting violence and under provisions of the Atrocities Act. Both these organisations primarily draw members from advantaged Hindu castes. It may also be recalled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought the ‘blessings’ of Bhide in the run up to 2014 General Elections.

Bhima-Koregoan and the preceding day’s mass gathering at Pune’s Shaniwar Wada, the erstwhile seat of the Peshwas, have provoked the ire of several local majoritarian Hindu groups with the Akhil Bharatiya Brahmin Mahasangh dubbing the event ‘anti-national’. Fearing that the celebrations would provide a platform for consolidating opposition to the new Peshwai (rule) of the BJP and RSS’s that have been striving to divert Dalit assertion into clashes with the Maratha peasantry. This has materialised as various acts of casteist oppression including the aforementioned vandalism of the tomb which is rumoured to have been led by a Hindu communal outfit.

While the BJP-RSS leadership seek to advance a homogenous majoritarian brand of Hindusim – Hindutva – they continue to pit people from advantaged castes against historically discriminated castes. Alongside persistent agrarian distress resulting from complete government negligence, supine private industrial investment, despite countless incentives and subsidies, and the BJP’s ideological aversion to the public sector has created severe economic stress contributing to the growing jobs crisis. As a result belligerent organisations of those from relatively privileged castes, who naturally lie outside the ambit of constitutional provisions of affirmative action, have begun mobilising for inclusion in reserved categories while simultaneously breeding strife between reserved and un-reserved castes. Nothing highlights this more than the growing demand from some Maratha organisations, in Maharashtra calls for both inclusion in the reserved categories as well the repeal of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989. In fact the jobs crisis, aggravated by the BJP governments’ floundering economic policy, has created resentment, especially amongst young people. In the absence of jobs in sight this has not just in the state of Maharashtra but, elsewhere in the country too, especially in states with BJP governments, contributed to inter-caste strife and in particular the targeting of people from historically discriminated castes and religious minorities.

A judicial enquiry by a sitting High Court Judge, a CID investigation and Rs. 10 lakh compensation to the family of deceased, announced by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devandra Fadnavis are mere platitudes in so far as the state government did nothing to stop what was clearly planned and orchestrated violence against Dalits. There is also evidence that the Maharshtra police failed to act even after the attacks began. Further, no arrests have been arrested for any of the attacks. The BJP’s government in Maharashtra, also, refused to allow a meeting of the Chatri Bharti in Mumbai yesterday, 4th January 2017, which was to be addressed by the recently elected independent MLA from Gujarat, Jignesh Mewani amounting to a suffocation of the freedom of speech and assembly.

The NTUI congratulates Dalit organisations and progressive mass organisations and political parties, including those of the left, in organising the successful Maharashtra Bandh on 3 January as a protest against the violence.

The NTUI calls upon:

  1. The Government of Maharashtra to arrest Manohar AKA Shambhaji Bhagat and Milind Ekbote against whom substantial evidence exists for organising, .inciting and leading the attack at Bhima-Koregoan;
  2. The BJP government at the centre to allow a debate on this attack and atrocities against Dalits since it has come to government with the Prime Minister remaining present in parliament throughout the debate and responding to it;
  3. The BJP government, in advance of the Union Budget 2018-19, to present a plan on job creation that must then be backed up a commitment of fiscal resources in the budget to presented in parliament on 1 February 2018.

Gautam Mody
General Secretary