Pune: Lakhs of people paid their tributes on Wednesday at the "Jaystambh" (victory pillar) in Perne village in Pune district of Maharashtra on the occasion of the 202nd anniversary of the Koregaon Bhima battle amidst tight security. The area had witnessed violent protests two years ago.
At least four lakh people paid their respects till 3 pm at the memorial, which Dalits view as a symbol of their pride, with no report of any untoward incident so far.
Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) president Prakash Ambedkar, Union minister Ramdas Athawale and several other leaders visited the 'Jay Stambh' on Wednesday morning. As a precautionary measure, Internet services in and around Koregaon Bhima have been suspended.
Violent clashes had broken out in the area around Koregaon Bhima on the 200th anniversary of the 1818 battle on January 1, 2018, in which one person was killed and several others were injured.
"The commemoration is peaceful so far, and till 3 pm, approximately 4 to 5 lakh people have paid their tributes at the 'Jaystambh'," said Pune Superintendent of Police Sandip Patil.
Patil said local residents are extending their cooperation and help to ensure that the event passes off peacefully, unlike the one in January 1, 2018.
Smarter from the previous experience, the police have made elaborate security arrangements in the area.
"Apart from a large number of police personnel, companies of State Reserve Police Force (SRPF), teams of Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad (BDDS) are also deployed in the area," a police official said, adding that drone cameras are also being used to monitor crowd.
As part of preparations, ample space has been provided for installing stalls to sell various souvenirs and other items, he said.
After visiting the victory pillar, Pawar said he offered tributes on behalf of the people of Maharashtra.
"This pillar has history and every year lakhs of people come here. Some untoward incidents took place two years ago, but the government is taking utmost care and elaborate police bandobast has been made here to ensure that no untoward incident takes place," he said.
Pawar urged people visiting the site to maintain peace. “I appeal to people to come here and offer their tributes, but also maintain peace and do not believe in rumours," he said.
As per the Dalit narrative, around 500 soldiers from the Dalit Mahar caste, part of the British Army, defeated forces of Peshwas (who were Brahmins), in the 1818 battle. Every year, lakhs of people, especially Dalits and those from the Ambedkarite movement, visit the Jaystambh on January 1 to pay their respects.
Pawar said Maharashtra has a tradition of maintaining peace and harmony.
"This particular area has history of valour and bravery. Similarly, Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj also had a connection with this land and the youth should take inspiration from the valour showcased by those who sacrificed their lives in the battle and go ahead in their life," he said
Meanwhile, Prakash Ambedkar claimed some people had tried to spark trouble during the ongoing congregation, but the new government has foiled their intentions.
"As the new government is in place, some people who tried to politicise the issue had intentions to create riots (in the congregation), but we, along with the government, foiled that motive," he said.
Ambedkar expressed satisfaction over the security arrangements around Koregaon Bhima.
When asked about the 2017 Elgaar Parishad case and NCP chief Sharad Pawar's recent demand to withdraw cases against activists in connection with the 2018 Koregaon Bhima incident, Ambedkar said the stand of all the three ruling constituents - Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress - in the state government is of cooperation, which is welcoming.