Dalit organisation Bhim Army on Wednesday announced a series of events in the two days leading up to the upcoming January 1 anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, with its firebrand leader, and founder, Chandrashekhar Azad, alias Ravan, planning to address a massive gathering of Dalit groups on December 30.
At a press conference, Datta Pol, the Pune district president of Bhim Army, said that the organisation planned to hold a ‘Bhima Koregaon Sangharsh Mahasabha’ on the SSPMS grounds in the city, in which Azad and several other leaders would participate.
The next day, on December 31, Azad also plans to address students at the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) on the situation of the Ambedkarite movement, during an interaction titled ‘Samvad Ambedkari Tarunaishi (Dialogue with Ambedkarite Students).’
On the anniversary day, January 1, Azad and others plan to visit the Jaystambh, the war monument at Perne village near Koregaon Bhima, which was erected by the British in the memory of the soldiers who died or were injured in the battle against Peshwas on January 1, 1818. In the Dalit narrative, the Battle of Bhima Koregaon represents the victory of the Dalit-dominated British Army over upper-caste Peshwas. Jaystambh has been the site of the main event of the anniversary every year for several decades.
“Azad will pay his tribute at the Jaystambh by showering flowers on it from a helicopter on January 1,” said Pol.
“Bhim Army has started preparing for the three-day programme. We have filed an application before Pune City Police, seeking permission for the gathering at SSPMS ground. Police have not replied to us yet. But we are an organisation that believed in the Constitution. So, we feel that police will give us permission. Meanwhile, we have also contacted SPPU officials regarding interaction with students. The Dr Ambedkar Post Graduate Students Association (DAPSA) is helping us,” said Pol.
He said that along with Azad, Bhim Army’s national president Vinay Ratan Singh and other leaders like Manjit Notiyal and Kamalsingh Waliya, Solapur-based history researcher Sarfaraz Shaikh, and orator Amol Mitkari, who is known to have a close association with Maratha outfit Sambhaji Brigade, would be present for the December 30 event.
Last year, on December 31, some Dalit groups had organised Elgaar Parishad, an evening event, at the historic Shaniwar Wada ahead of the 200th anniversary. Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani and JNU student Umar Khalid were among the speakers. Police claim that speeches made at the Elgaar Parishad and campaigns held previously had played a role in instigating violence that was witnessed on January 1 this year, in which one person was killed and several others injured.
A police investigation is ongoing to probe the alleged Naxal links of the organisers of the Elgaar Parishad. The Bhim Army actively participated in the Elgaar Parishad, which, according to Pune City Police, was allegedly organised as per the objectives of banned CPI-Maoist. Bhim Army leader Vinay Ratan Singh was one of the speakers at the event, but none of its office-bearers have been named as accused in the police case. A total of 22 people have been named as accused, and some high-profile arrests have been made in the case over their alleged Maoist links.
Asked about police permission for the events planned this year, Joint Commissioner of Pune City Police, Shivaji Bodkhe, said he was yet to discuss the matter with officials from the Special Branch.
Bhim Army has blamed Hindutva leaders Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote for the January 1 violence. A separate investigation into the violence witnessed on January 1, based on an FIR lodged by a Dalit woman, is also under progress. Ekbote was arrested but released on bail by a court. Police never arrested Bhide, citing lack of evidence.
Bhim Army has said it will demand action against the Hindutva leaders.
“Action against Bhide and Ekbote is going to be one of our key demands. We are expecting a crowd of about 30,000 for the December 30 gathering. We will be inviting various Ambedkarite and progressive organisations for the gathering and hope to get good support. But we will not form any separate organising committee for any of our events. All three programmes will be conducted by the Bhim Army,” Pol told The Indian Express.
According to Pune District Collector Naval Kishor Ram, management of events to commemorate the Battle of Koregaon Bhima will be done by the district administration and police department, to ensure peace and prevent any untoward incidents. “The state administration and police would not be controlling the event or its content. We would only be monitoring arrangements for the event, so that it takes place in a more regularised manner,” he had said after visiting the Jaystambh and adjoining areas recently, along with Sandip Patil, superintendent of Pune Rural Police.