A day after one person was killed in clashes between suspected Maratha groups and Dalits near Pune over celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said that the vision of RSS and BJP was to see that Dalits “remain at the bottom” of society.
“A central pillar of the RSS/BJP’s fascist vision for India is that Dalits should remain at the bottom of Indian society. Una, Rohith Vemula and now Bhima-Koregaon are potent symbols of the resistance,” the Congress president tweeted Tuesday. The BJP was quick to respond, accusing Gandhi of practising “petty politics”. But the ruling party also signalled its rising concern over the conflict by deciding to send a senior leader to Maharashtra to assess the situation.
Following Gandhi’s tweet, AICC general secretary in charge of Maharashtra, Mohan Prakash, claimed that the “anti-Dalit mindset” of the RSS and BJP has come to fore. Speaking to The Indian Express, Prakash said, “Wherever the BJP is in power, the supporters of the party and RSS execute such actions when events related to Dalit pride are organised.” Read Full Story: Bhima-Koregaon clash spills into Mumbai, CM Fadnavis orders probe; Chembur, Mulund worst hit
Congress leaders also claimed that those who pelted stones at Dalits on Monday were carrying saffron flags and alleged that the BJP government in Maharashtra wanted to create a “Dalit vs Maratha standoff” to trigger a Maratha consolidation. Reacting sharply to Gandhi’s tweet, BJP spokesperson GVL Rao tweeted: “Rahul G, You have focused only on Dalit votes for 60 years while in power & Not progress. PM @narendramodi ji is focusing on development, promoting them as entrepreneurs. Shame on you @OfficeofRG for petty politics! Time for you to apologise on your family’s & party’s behalf.”
The BJP leadership has directed Saroj Pande, its general secretary in charge of Maharashtra, to attend a review meeting of the state unit on January 4. During the recent Gujarat elections, the BJP had to face a stiff electoral challenge over caste divisions and Dalit anger.
BJP sources told The Indian Express that the party was “concerned”, particularly because Dalit leaders who have “newly emerged”, like Jignesh Mevani, who won the election in Gujarat and is part of the Congress-led Opposition, have marked their presence in Koregaon. Mevani was one of the speakers at the Elgaar Parishad, one of the main events organised last week to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle.
“This episode should concern us. It is inexplicable as to how our government let matters slip to reach such a situation,” said a BJP MP from Maharashtra.
“This suggests a deepening of caste fault lines. This is not good for us and highlights the increasing challenge for the BJP to use our promise of vikas (development) to paper over this fault line,” said the MP.
On January 1 every year, Dalits march to the Jaystambh (victory pillar) at Bhima Koregaon, about 30 km northeast of Pune, to mark the anniversary of the 1818 battle, in which British forces comprising soldiers from the Mahar community had defeated an army of Peshwas.
The Congress, meanwhile, targetted the state government, too.
“The government should have been on the alert. Since this was the 200th anniversary of the battle, there was a big mobilisation of Dalits. In view of this fact, the government should have been extremely careful,” former Maharasthra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan told The Indian Express.
Pointing out that a bandh has been called in Maharashtra Wednesday, Chavan targetted Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis for the “complete failure” of his government.
“I am concerned over whether there was a deliberate attempt to cause a law-and-order situation by certain forces… it could flare up into a confrontation. I think it is the failure of the Chief Minister. He should have personally monitored (the situation). It is the complete failure of the state government’s law-and-order machinery. The government should have anticipated large crowds and taken adequate measures,” he said.
“The people who pelted stones, who are they? Why have they not been arrested so far?” asked Chavan.
Congress Lok Sabha MP from Hingoli, Rajeev Satav, alleged that the Maharashtra government “had prior information” about the clashes and “those who instigated” them. “The government did not act and is not acting. The police also knew. It is not a new event, thousands of people gather here every year,” Satav told The Indian Express.