Reactions by leaders in the wake of one person’s death in the violence that broke out in Pune have exposed fault lines in state politics. On the one hand, the Maratha community is desperate to consolidate its hold on state politics. On the other hand, the Dalit community has sent a strong signal that should not be underestimated.
Reflections of this mindset were visible in the reactions political parties expressed after violence erupted during the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the battle between the British forces and an army of the Peshwas.
This year’s Vijay Diwas was celebrated against the backdrop of the bitterly fought Gujarat election where BJP failed to achieve its 150-plus target, while Congress — in alliance with Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakore — improved its tally.
The celebration, attended by Mevani himself, coincided with Maratha Kranti Morcha’s (MKM) announcement to revive its agitation to press for quota in jobs and education, and for upliftment of the community. MKM welcomed the conviction of the three accused in the Kopardi rape-and-murder case, but it has been fuming over the government dilly-dallying over fulfilment of its promises.
Caste equations at play in Bhima Koregaon and its aftermath are quite complex: While the Peshwas were Brahmins, their army was Maratha. The victory over the Peshwa army by the British was aided by Mahar soldiers, which is commemorated at Bhima Koregaon.
In today’s context, the Maharashtra government is headed by Devendra Fadnavis, a Brahmin. Hence how he handles this protest is going to be a key test of his leadership.
Dalit leader Ramdas Athavale’s political career got major boost after Sharad Pawar, a Maratha, made him Maharashtra’s Social Welfare Minister in the 1990s. Today, Fadnavis and Athavale are in a political alliance, while Pawar is blaming Hindutva forces for the violence even while appealing for peace. While responding to the violence, Pawar refused to name the culprits, but blamed the right wing.
Athavale, on his part, blamed Maratha elements and sought the CM’s intervention. He pleaded that police protection be provided to the Dalits. This did not go well with the Dalit community, and even his followers put their weight behind the rasta-rok and other protests.
For a change, Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) leader Prakash Ambedkar and Pawar were on the same page. Ambedkar shared Pawar’s views but named Hindu Ekta Aghadi – headed by Milind Ekbote – and Shivraj Pratishthan – founded by Sambhaji Bhide – for the violence.
Incidentally, after the outburst by Pawar and Ambedkar, the police have filed a First Information Report (FIR) against Ekbote and Bhide.