(G.N.S) Dt. 28
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. 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.
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.
Peshwe said he disagreed with the ‘war for freedom’ narrative. “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 minority communities, 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.
Radhika Vemula, mother of Rohith Vemula, a research scholar at University of Hyderabad whose suicide had created an uproar and triggered protests, will inaugurate the conference at Shaniwar Wada on December 31. Speakers at the event include Mevani, a Dalit leader and newly-elected Gujarat MLA, Umar Khalid, a JNU student who was at the centre of the controversial slogan-shouting incident last year, tribal rights activist Soni Sori, and Vinay Ratan Singh, the national president of the Bhim Army.
Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Babasaheb Ambedkar, Prashant Dontha of the Ambedkar Students’ Association, Hyderabad, and Maulana Abdul Hamid Azhari, national secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, are among the other speakers at the day-long event, which will be presided over by retired Supreme Court Justice P B Sawant. The participants would later march towards the ‘Jaystambh’ (victory memorial) in Perne, where a few lakh people are expected to assemble on January 1.
Udaysinh Peshwe, one of the descendants of Peshwas, said he found it “strange” that the BJP was supporting the December 31 event at Shaniwar Wada. “Elgaar Parishad is a conspiracy to use the name of the Peshwas for attacking the BJP. But the irony is that the BJP is supporting the event. The organisers have received permission from the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) for the Shaniwar Wada conference. The BJP is in power in the PMC… still permission was granted for holding the event. It is also known that ministers of the BJP government in Maharashtra will be visiting Bhima Koregaon on January 1. So I have no hopes from the BJP government…,” said Peshwe.