Mumbai: The controversy over investigation of the Bhima Koregaon case seems to be aimed at bringing back the Dalit vote bank to the NCP fold. NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s demand of instituting a special investigation team (SIT) probe into the case is a masterstroke to weaken the Dalit base of Reublican parties, especially of Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi led by Prakash Ambedkar. Dalits are leaning towards the Maha Vikas Aaghadi government due to this move.
NCP has taken the lead and may get full credit if such an inquiry is instituted. Soon after the Maha Vikas Aaghadi government was formed, Pawar raised doubts over the investigation of the Bhima Koregaon and Elgar Parishad cases. He suggested that the state government set up an SIT to probe into the matter.
Even after Centre announced a probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), Pawar is firm on an SIT investigation because the Bhima Koregaon is very close to Dalits in the state.
On January 1, 1818, the British Army defeated the Peshwas at Bheema Koregaon. This army was having a sizeable number Mahar (Dalit) soldiers. A victory pillar (Vijay Sthamb) was erected in Koregaon by the British, commemorating the dead soldiers. In 1928, then Dalit leader BR Ambedkar led the first commemoration ceremony here. Since then, on 1 January every year, Ambedkarite Dalits gather at Bhima Koregaon to celebrate their victory against the alleged ‘upper caste’ Peshwa regime of the Maratha empire, whom they see as their oppressors.
On January 1, 2018, 200 years of this victory was being celebrated by Ambedkarises across the country. They were allegedly targeted by villagers as they were instigated by Manohar Bhide and Milind Ekbote. One person died and a large number of people were injured. But the then Devendra Fadnavis-led government did not arrest them and Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale was arrested. This upset the Dalits across the state. Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr BR Ambedkar, emerged as a strong Dalit leader after he protested against this violence. Under the name of Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi, he politically cashed in on this sentiment during the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. In these elections, Dalits and OBCs voted for VBA candidates which led to division of votes and this largely benefited BJP.
Immediately after the Assembly elections, Pawar appealed to his party leaders to introspect why Dalits went with VBA, and encouraged to bring them back to the NCP fold. And he himself demanded an SIT probe into the Bheema Koregaon and Elgar parishad cases.
After Pawar started raising these issues, the Dalits are seeing a new hope in the leader. Ambedkar has now almost lost his relevance. Even his own brother-in-law and academic, Anand Teltumbde, is facing arrest in this case. This Dalit community now understands about the limited political clout of their own leaders. Meanwhile, sensing that all credit for this issue may go to Pawar and NCP, the Congress off late has started making a noise. The party’s state president Balasaheb Thorat said that handing over the Elgar Parishad probe to NIA is a plan of the central government to label people associated with the Dalit movement as Naxals.