Groups of Jai Bhim supporters converged on the buzzing intersection holding the ubiquitous blue flags to protest the arrest of five people in connection with the Elgaar Parishad held to mark 200 years of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in December 2017
It was all about the signature call of ‘Naxalvad toh bahana hai, Ekbote, Bhide ko bachana hai’ (the naxal label is a convenient excuse to shield the real culprits, Ekbote and Bhide) at a protest gathering at the Bandra (E) Collectors’ Office on Friday. Groups of Jai Bhim supporters converged on the buzzing intersection holding the ubiquitous blue flags to protest the arrest of five people in connection with the Elgaar Parishad held to mark 200 years of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in December 2017.
On Wednesday, the police had arrested five people — Sudhir Dhawale from Mumbai, Roma Wilson from Delhi, and Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut and Surendra Gadling from Nagpur — claiming that they are members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and had helped fund the Elgaar Parishad with money from Maoist organisations. “Dhawale is no Maoist, he is a worker, an active one,” shouted some from the Republican Sena, squatting at the divider. They claimed that the naxal spiel had been made up, “to steer attention away from the real cause, shielding the upper caste Ekbote and Bhide,” who, they claimed, were the real instigators of the violence.
Republican Sena Maharashtra president Kashinath Nikalje said angrily, “The claims that Elgaar was supported by Maoist money is nonsense. It was we, the participants, who shelled out R50 to R100 each and went ahead with the Elgaar Parishad.” Nikalje asked why Sambaji Bhide had not been called for even one day of questioning by the police.
For Rajesh Gaikwad, the answer was simple, “If we were so-called Maoist funded, then we would not have come here walking, we would have come in cars.” In response to a question about Dalit violence following Elgaar Parishad, Gaikwad said, “There were several elements in the crowds pretending to be supporters, who indulged in stone throwing, but it was not us.” For Satyam Lokhande, “We had gone to the site to mark 200 years of Bhima-Koregaon and commemorate the date.” Ashok Gajbhiya said, “People tell us that we should not commemorate the date? That date had a special significance for us.”
As people arrived and the crowd swelled, the police swung into action with traffic barricades and ropes. Significant numbers of lathi-wielding policewomen came on to the scene even as Jaya Ingre asked shrilly, “Give me proof that Elgaar was funded by Maoists, give me proof.” Ingre, part of Bahujan Mahasangh, claimed, “We were walking to the site with small children when the violence erupted. Suddenly bikes were whizzing in between columns of people walking. We had not gone to fight or instigate anybody, we would not be walking with our children if that was our aim. We want to show the new generation that injustice prevails even now. Our youths are killed if they fall in love with so-called upper castes, just one example of that discrimination,” she said. Activists then unfurled a banner and cries slamming Narendra Modi, Devendra Fadnavis went up. Bharat Bachao Andolan’s Firoze Mithiborwala said, “This letter purported to be found with the Maoists where a plot to kill Modi was outlined is fabrication. This is all about creating some extreme situation because Modi is losing ground fast, and he has to do something extreme before the 2019 elections.”
What is Elgaar Parishad?
Elgaar Parishad was an event to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. In this battle, which took place on January 1, 1818, the British Army had defeated the Peshwas. The Dalits believe that the British forces 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.