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Bhima Koregaon violence: Why BJP & Devendra Fadnavis are the net losers

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 5 January 2018, 1:23 IST

The attack on the celebration of 200 years of the battle of Bhima Koregaon and the following violence has put the Maharashtra government in a tight spot. On one hand, the Devendra Fadnavis government is facing flak for failing to contain the violence. On the other hand it is caught in a bind over arresting the two Hindutva leaders alleged to be behind the attack – Manohar ‘Sambhaji’ Bhide of Shiv Pratishthan and and Milind Ekbote of Samast Hindu Aghadi.

Instead, the state government on Thursday chose to crackdown on a students’ event organised by Chhatra Bharti where Dalit MLA from Gujarat, Jignesh Mevani, and Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Umar Khalid were present. Mevani and Khalid had also spoken at the Elgar Parishad in Bhima Koregaon along with Rohith Vemula’s mother Radhika Vemula.

The Elgar Parishad was organised at Pune to commemorate 200 years of Bhima Koregaon battle, where 500 Mahar soldiers in British Army helped defeat the Peshwa’s army. This is seen as a triumph for Dalits, who were subjected to brutal oppression under the Peshwa.

The attack on the people attending the celebrations as well as the desecration of the memorial of Govind Gaikwad, the Mahar who had performed the last rites of Shivaji’s son Sambhaji, incensed Dalits against not just the Hindutva outfits behind the attack but also the Maharashtra government.

Fadnavis is now caught in a Catch-22 situation. If he arrests the two Hindutva leaders, he runs the risk of angering the BJP’s core constituency. This is especially dangerous as Bhide is known to be close to the RSS. But any failure to arrest them, will anger the Dalit community.

“If BJP doesn’t arrest Bhide and Ekbote, they will be the losers. BJP has been given an issue on a platter, all they need to do is do their job,” Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh leader Prakash Ambedkar.

Furthermore Fadnavis who was already facing criticism for the fire at Kamala Mills, is now being criticised for his failure to maintain law and order in the state. Not only did the authorities fail to provide protection to the Bhima Koregaon battle anniversary celebrations, they also mishandled the violence that followed as well as Wednesday’s Maharashtra Bandh.

This has become a major embarrassment for Fadnavis, who was being projected as one of the more efficient BJP chief ministers.

The entire row has revived the political fortunes of Prakash Ambedkar. He was instrumental in organising an extremely successful Maharashtra Bandh. But in an astute move, he called it off in less than a day, demonstrating his power as well as his maturity.

After a meeting with CM Fadnavis on January 4 morning, Ambedkar claimed that the government has agreed to all his demands such as immediately suspending combing operation to arrest protesting Dalit youths and the creation of a judicial inquiry into the attack on the Elgar Parishad.

The Maharashtra government’s heavy-handed approach has also catapulted Jignesh Mevani from a Gujarat MLA to a national level Dalit politician.

Veteran journalist Kumar Ketkar says that the violence over Bhima Koregaon incident has come as a shot in the arm for politicians like Mevani and Prakash Ambedkar but it will harm Fadnavis.

 “The incident has punctured the BJP claim of inclusive politics. The violence will harm Fadnavis in long term, though not in short term. BJP will face the consequences ahead of the Lok Sabha and state Assembly elections in 2019. As far as Mewani is concerned, he will be cut to size soon. Had it not been for the Congress, Mewani would not have become an MLA,” he said.

Referring to NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Ketkar said, “He wants to appease only Marathas, and has nothing to do with Dalits. The Maratha rallies taken out in Maharashtra were in fact against the Dalit community, but were portrayed as anti-Brahmin. Pawar’s stand on the issue over last three days is self explanatory. We don’t need Pawar to tell us to be united and considerate about each other.” 

According to senior journalist Abhar Deshpande said, “BJP won the last Assembly election on the issue of development. But now it has walked into the trap of caste politics. Fadnavis is a lone warrior in the state BJP and no one is helping him”.

Some observers feel that Fadnavis had no other choice.

 “It is easier said than done. In my opinion, Fadnavis did a right thing to allow passage to the anger of Dalit people that was waiting to explode after Maratha rallies last year. Had the police resorted to harsh action such as cane charge or tear gas, the situation would have taken a serious turn and violence would have continued for a week or so,” said veteran political analyst Ganesh Torsekar.

First published: 5 January 2018, 1:23 IST