Despite fears of unrest following last month’s brutal killing of three members from a Dalit family in Javakheda, Ahmednagar district, the Mahaparinirvan Din at Chaitya Bhoomi near Shivaji Park, to mark the 58th death anniversary of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, was largely peaceful. The state government Saturday accorded Ambedkar full state honours in a first.
Atleast 10-12 lakh people had paid their respects since Friday night, said Mumbai Police spokesperson DCP Dhananjay Kulkarni. People congregated across the state with families reaching the venue the previous night to beat the queues and staying on footpaths. Many came in large groups in buses and trucks and spent much of Saturday, after visiting Chaitya Bhoomi, touring popular destinations in Mumbai such as Gateway of India and Haji Ali. Volunteers from across political parties had set up stalls for supplying free food, snacks and water, and literature on Dr Ambedkar.
The Mumbai police had imposed a strict bandobast with over 2,000 personnel at the venue and more in surrounding areas. Police sources said that they had two concerns. The first was the fear of protests after the recent killing of a Dalit family. “We held meetings with the heads of all Dalit bodies in the city. We were given to understand that supporters would not want to rake up this issue on this day. We nevertheless decided to be prepared,” said an officer.
The second concern was the possibility of a terror strike after Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri released a tape in September claiming that the terrorist outfit had set up a new branch in the Indian subcontinent. “We knew that there would be huge number of people coming into the city from all over, leading to an increased number of potential targets,” another officer said.
The only attempted protest that the police had to halt was by Dr Ambedkar’s nephew Anandrao Ambedkar, who reached the venue with about 150 supporters at 11 am, the police said.
“They wanted to protest on the fact that Dr Ambedkar’s memorial at Indu Mill has still not been erected though it has been three years since the demand was made. We quickly dispersed them,” said Mumbai Police spokesperson DCP Dhananjay Kulkarni.
There was also a minor clash between members of RPI secular and RPI (Athavale) parties and the reason is being investigated.
Supporters wrote postcards to Fadnavis and signed on vinyl banners, before proceeding towards Chaitya Bhoomi. A Mumbai-based NGO, in a show of strength, pressed for fast-tracking the planned memorial at Indu Mills.