A day before Elgaar Parishad, a one-day conference to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, a leader of the Akhil Bhartiya Brahman Mahasangh (ABBM) held a meeting with Prakash Ambedkar, a key speaker at the conference.
The ABBM had earlier urged Pune City Police to deny permission for the event, claiming it would “spread casteism…”. However, it changed its stance later and said it would “welcome” all the speakers at the conference, and even sought an “open debate” on the battle.
Anand Dave, Pune district president of ABBM, took everyone by surprise on Saturday when he met Ambedkar and other members of the Elgaar Parishad organising committee, including Santosh Shinde of the Sambhaji Brigade, after a press conference organised by the committee at the Patrakar Bhavan.
In the battle, which took place on January 1, 1818, the British Army is believed to have defeated the Peshwas.
Members of the Dalit community believe that the British force comprised largely of soldiers from the Dalit Mahar community, who waged a “war for freedom” from the alleged casteism of the Peshwas, who were upper-caste Brahmins.
The ABBM, on the other hand, has claimed the forces of Peshwas, who represented Maratha Chhatrapati, had soldiers from various castes, including Dalits. The organisation had earlier stated, “It is not right to celebrate the victory of the British Army over the Indian forces of Peshwas”.
Speaking to Pune Newsline, Dave said his meeting with Ambedkar and other organising committee members was a “casual” one.
Meanwhile, organisers of the Elgaar Parishad said that all speakers, including Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, the newly-elected MLA from Gujarat, Umar Khalid, the JNU student charged with sedition over the controversial slogan-shouting incident on campus, Vinay Ratan Singh, the national president of the Bhim Army, and others have confirmed their presence at the event. A leaflet issued by the organisers makes an appeal to the public, mainly members of Dalit, tribal and minority communities, to unite and take inspiration from the martyrs of the Bhima Koregaon battle, in order to defeat the “new Peshwas” — BJP, RSS and other “Hindutva” forces.
At the press conference, Ambedkar, the grandson of B R Ambedkar, said various organisations had come together to be part of the conference. “It is a positive step and people with different views are together on a democratic platform…. The battle is a symbol of social and religious freedom. The Peshwa rule saw the most inhuman treatment… we believe that incidents like forcing certain eating practices, curbing of freedom of speech, which we see today, are similar… we are joining hands against those who are trying to impose such rules… We believe in democratic values and are open to interaction and debate…,” he said.
The organisers said that after the conference, participants would march towards the ‘Jaystambh’ in Perne, where a lakhs of people are expected to gather on January 1.