A day after it urged authorities to deny permission for the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ — an event to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon — the Akhil Bhartiya Brahman Mahasangh (ABBM) “welcomed” Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and other speakers to the conference.
In the battle, which took place on January 1, 1818, the British Army had defeated the Peshwas. The members of the Dalit community believe that the British force largely comprised soldiers from the Dalit Mahar community, who waged a “war for freedom” from the alleged castiesm of the Peshwas, who were upper-caste Brahmins.
Anand Dave, district president of ABBM, said, “We are not against Elgaar Parishad, or people gathering at Bhima Koregaon for celebrations. We are only against casteism… We welcome Mevani, JNU student (Umar Khalid) and other speakers to Pune… we are open to interactions with organisers of the conference. If they are willing, let there be an open debate.”
“Our stand is that both the British Army and the Indian forces, represented by Peshwas, had soldiers from various castes. Many soldiers from Peshwa’s army sacrificed their lives in this war. So, as Indians, we feel it’s not right to celebrate the victory of the British. In fact, there is a difference of opinion among historians on whether the British Army won at Bhima Koregaon,” said Dave. The British government had erected a Jay-stambh (victory memorial) at Perne village near Bhima Koregaon in Pune, in the memory of soldiers in the British Army who had died in the battle.
Udaysinh Peshwe, a descendent of the Peshwas, had also requested Pune City Police to deny permission for the ‘Elgaar Parishad’. Peshwe said he disagreed with the ‘war for freedom’ narrative, explaining, “Peshwas represented the kingdom of Maratha Chhatrapati and their forces included soldiers and sardars (officers) from different castes, including Dalits. It was a battle between the British Army and the Maratha kingdom. Celebrating the victory of the British is not right. Peshwas played a major role in the rise of the Maratha Empire…”
In a press conference on Tuesday, Jyoti Jagtap of Kabir Kala Manch, one of the organisers of the event, had said, “It is time to accept that the Peshwa rule was unjust. We are fighting against the new Peshwas, the current rulers, who continue unjust practices even today.” A pamphlet for the conference makes an appeal to the public, mainly members of Dalit, tribal and minorities, to unite and be inspired by the heroes of the Bhima Koregaon battle, in order to defeat the “new Peshwas” — BJP, RSS and other “Hindutva” forces.