The village of Vadhu Budruk was at the centre of a controversy again on Thursday after a group of people arrived here with plans to start construction work at the disputed samadhi of Govind Gopal (Mahar) Gaikwad. The group included Rajendra Gaikwad of Pune, who is from Vadhu Budruk and claims to be a descendant of Govind Gopal (Mahar) Gaikwad, who was a 17th-century Dalit figure now at the centre of a dispute over who conducted the last rites of Maratha King Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj.
Rajendra Gaikwad said he wanted to undertake construction work around the samadhi, claiming it was located on private land belonging to his family. But police urged him to wait for government orders.
Vadhu Budruk is known for the tomb of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, who was killed by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in 1689. The Marathas believe it was their ancestors, the Shivale Deshmukhs, who defied the orders of Aurangzeb and performed the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj. A memorial to Shivale Deshmukhs also exists in the village.
According to Dalit narrative, particularly that of Ambedkarites, it was Govind Gopal of Mahar community who performed the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj in defiance of Aurangzeb. A samadhi of Govind Gopal is located on the private land of Gaikwad family in Vadhu Budruk.
The local Maratha community claims that this samadhi of Govind Gopal was constructed only a couple of years ago. But the Gaikwad family says it has existed for many years and was only renovated a few years ago.
Members of the Gaikwad family and others had erected a board in Vadhu Budruk on the intervening night of December 28 and 29, 2017, which stated that Govind Gopal (Mahar) conducted the last rites on Sambhaji Maharaj. The Marathas in the village, who believe their ancestors performed the last rites, removed the board the next day, leading to an altercation on December 29. Marathas also alleged the board was put up illegally without seeking permission from the Gram Panchayat and the claims made were not backed by historical evidence.
The dispute led to filing of cross-complaints by Dalits and Marathas against each other. The matter was settled with the intervention of police, but the incident is seen as one of the triggers that sparked off violence in Koregaon Bhima area on January 1, 2018, in which one person died and several others were injured.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Rajendra Gaikwad said, “We want to make seating arrangements, build water facilities, provide electricity for people from our community who visit the samadhi of Govind Gopal Gaikwad. We want to finish this work before January 1, 2019, when thousands of people who will visit the Jaystambha to commemorate the Battle of Koregaon will also visit Govind Gopal Gaikwad’s samadhi in Vadhu Budruk. Union Minister
Ramdas Athawale had announced Rs 25 lakh for this work. But the government has not started any work yet. As the samadhi is on our private land, we plan to raise funds by making an appeal to the community and finish the work before January 1. For that reason, we went to Vadhu Budruk, to inspect the samadhi area and plan the construction work. Everything will be done legally.”
Gaikwad claimed that the Koregaon Bhima Inquiry Commission, appointed to probe what led to the January 1 violence, has also allowed them to construct the samadhi of Govind Gopal Gaikwad on their private land.
But, according to police, the hearings of the Koregaon Bhima Inquiry Commission are on and no order regarding the construction of Govind Gopal Gaikwad’s samadhi has been issued. Additional Superintendent of Police Sandeep Pakhale said the police have appealed to Gaikwad and others to present their case before the Koregaon Bhima Inquiry Commission and not to take up any construction work without seeking essential government permissions, to which they have agreed.
Gaikwad is likely to appear before the Koregaon Bhima Inquiry Commission in Pune for a hearing on October 3. Gaikwad said, “We have all essential historical evidence regarding Govind Gopal’s (Mahar) role in the last rites of Sambhaji Maharaj (and will present it) before the commission. We will put up our case before the commission properly.”
Prafull Shivale, a former sarpanch of Vadhu Budruk, said, “There is no mention of Govind Gopal Gaikwad’s samadhi in the gram panchayat and government records. According to the historical records we have seen, there is no mention that Govind Gopal Gaikwad performed the last rites on Sambhaji Maharaj. There is a dispute even about the land where the samadhi of Govind Gopal Gaikwad is located. The issue should be sorted out peacefully. We have also requested the commission that the government should study all historical evidence, documents and facts in this regard and come out with a report. We will abide by it.”