'Isn't it tragic, comic as well as ironic that the people who owe their allegiance to the Constitution of India are declared deshdrohis without an iota of evidence?'
'But this mistake has to be corrected and those who actually and directly fomented the Bhima Koregaon riots and the masterminds behind these people will have to be exposed now.'
Congress leader Dr Nitin Raut, is the energy minister in the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra.
Dr Raut, who was at the meeting called by Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar to consider formation of a special investigation team to probe the Bhima Koregaon violence, reveals to Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com what was discussed at the meeting.
What happened at the meeting that Mr Sharad Pawar called to discuss the formation of an SIT to probe those responsible for the Bhima Koregaon violence?
A serious discussion took place highlighting the context and the background of the Bhima Koregaon march by Dalits every January 1.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj united various sections of Maharashtra's mavalas to establish Hindavi Swaraj.
The foundation of this was the pride and self-respect of the ryot (common people).
This legacy later fell into the hands of the Peshwas (the descendants of advisors to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj during his reign) and though under Peshwai (the rule of the Peshwas) the Maratha empire expanded geographically, the social structure and ideology on which Shivaji's Hindavi Swaraj was built saw sharp fissures.
The Peshwai, especially towards its demise, saw a deep erosion of these values giving birth to Brahminical dominance over the downtrodden making the lives of the latter miserable.
The social structure that emerged enslaved the downtrodden.
The British empire, which had set foot in India, had slowly begun to expand its rule over India in the 17th century. They employed Indians in their army without discriminating on the basis of caste or religion.
During the fag end of the Peshwa rule, on January 1, 1818, in the battle fought at Bhima Koregaon (near Pune) between the Peshwas and the British army, which comprised of 832 soldiers, of which 500 were Mahars, the Mahars routed 25,000 soldiers of the Peshwas.
Despite the odds, the Mahar soldiers of the British army exhibited exemplary courage and routed the army of the Peshwas.
The battle had epic proportions and, obviously, assumed historical significance, especially for the Mahars, who till then were exploited by the Brahminical order established by the Peshwai.
That thousands of years of exploitation, hatred and insults was avenged by this Mahar army in the historic battle of Bhima Koregaon, and it later came to signify Mahar pride and a sense of triumphalism over centuries of dominance and misery.
To pay homage to the Mahar soldiers who laid down their lives for the cause of the British empire, they built a Shaurya Stambh (a monument to symbolise the courage of the Mahars).
When Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar came to know about it, he went to the Shaurya Stambh and paid his respects to the bravery of the Mahar soldiers and their historical victory over Brahminical hegemony.
Since then, every year on January 1, Mahars and the downtrodden from across Maharashtra and India congregate at Bhima Koregaon to express their solidarity to the cause of the downtrodden.
One must remember that even before the birth of the Hindu Mahasabha, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the Marxists, this event at Bhima Koregaon had assumed greatness.
Importantly, the Mahars before, who became Buddhists later, were staunch supporters of Shivaji and Sambhaji Maharaj and have always prided themselves for that.
When Sambhaji Maharaj was brutally tortured and his body was torn into pieces and strewn around, Gopal Gaikwad, a Mahar, who stayed near Waduz, which is very close to the Shaurya Stambh, had the courage to gather all the pieces together and performed Sambhaji Maharaj's last rites without bothering about reprisals from the Mughals.
This example is always cited to prove how staunchly the Mahars supported the Hindavi Swaraj rule established by Shivaji Maharaj.
However, to avenge the insults and miseries heaped upon them by the Peshwas, the defeat of the Peshwas has come to symbolise the resurrection of Mahars from thousands of years of Brahminical slavery.
After discussing the backdrop to the significance of Bhima Koregaon event for the pride and self-respect of Mahars and Dalits of the state, the meeting also threw light on how the then BJP government, which ruled the state to establish the RSS's agenda, created an environment to break the back of the Bhima Koregaon congregation where Dalits go to remember the bravery of their forefathers, and once and for all to satisfy their ideological masters, the RSS.
The violence that erupted on January 1, 2018, at Bhima Koregaon was fomented by Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, egged on by the then BJP government which polluted the environment and tried to engineer a divide between the Marathas and the Mahars.
We have evidence to prove how Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide gave incendiary speeches against the Dalits before the January 1, 2018 event, incited the Marathas by trying to portray the Shaurya Stambh as the symbol of Maratha defeat, which actually is a symbol of the defeat of the Peshwas, their Brahminical hegemony.
Even the then Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis admitted on the floor of the Maharashtra legislative assembly that prima facie Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote seemed to have been involved in the violence of January 1, 2018.
Despite such an admission one wonders why his government did not arrest the two under charges of creating communal disturbances in the state.
Instead, Devendra Fadnavis's BJP government used the violence to embroil the progressive public activists, who under the banner of the Elgaar Parishad, had gathered at the historic Shaniwarwada (the seat of the Peshwa rule) in Pune on December 31, 2017, and declared them anti-national.
Former Supreme Court judge P B Sawant and former Bombay high court judge B G Kolse Patil had organised these protests where they made the gathered crowd take an oath on the Constitution to protect the secular and democratic fabric of our nation.
This event was attended among others by Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, Radhika Vemula (mother of Rohit Vemula, the Dalit student who committed suicide), Adivasi activist Soni Sori, Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar, Bhim Army president Vinay Ratan Singh, and student leader Umar Khaled.
In the presence of around 35,000 people, the Elgaar Parishad made them pledge their allegiance to the Constitution and fight the fascist forces that were trying to establish their sway over India.
Given these two events organised around the same time a huge crowd had assembled in Pune. The Bhima Koregaon violence was planned by the BJP government in Maharashtra to teach the followers of Dr Ambedkar a lesson that was meant to permanently discourage them for rising against the Brahminical order.
All these issues were discussed threadbare and in the light of these facts we have decided to ask the Maharashtra government to start fresh investigations to look into the riots that took place after the Bhima Koregaon event on January 1, 2018.
While it is easy to blame the then BJP government for not arresting the alleged accused according to you, what stops the Maha Vikas Aghadi government from arresting Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide now?
While we wanted to set up a special investigation team to probe the role of Ekbote and Bhide in the Bhima Koregaon violence, the Union government decided to bring in the National Investigation Agency to allegedly investigate the role of Elgaar Parishad in promoting anti-India activities.
Now that the NIA is investigating the Elgaar Parishad case, we have always been demanding a SIT to probe the role of Ekbote and Bhide in the riots.
The SIT that we are asking for will have different terms of reference and jurisdiction than what the NIA is probing currently.
Just because Elgaar Parishad leaders spoke against the atrocities of the Narendra Modi government doesn't make them deshdrohi (anti-nationals).
Isn't it tragic, comic as well as ironic that the people who owe their allegiance to the Constitution of India are declared deshdrohis without an iota of evidence?
But this mistake has to be corrected and those who actually and directly fomented the Bhima Koregaon riots and the masterminds behind these people will have to be exposed now.
So, we are asking for a SIT probe into the role of those who incited people to resort to violence against the Dalits on January 1, 2018.
The meeting that took place did not have a single minister or leader from the Shiv Sena. Are all the three constituents of the Maha Vikas Aghadi, the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress on the same page for setting up an SIT to probe those responsible for the Bhima Koregaon violence?
This government belongs to the Maha Vikas Aghadi and is led by the leader of the Shiv Sena.
Only Dalit leaders were invited for the meeting where they made their presentations.
These Dalit leaders and activists want the formation of an SIT to find out the masterminds behind the Bhima Koregaon violence.
In the early days of the MVA when there were just six ministers, I had also pushed for the same demand when I met Pawar saheb.
Following that, Pawar saheb was in discussion with Uddhavji (Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray) to set up an SIT. But corona happened and this demand was kept on the backburner for some time.
But at the meeting yesterday (September 10) it was decided that I along with state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh and Additional Chief Secretary, home, Sitaram Kunte will together look at the legal provisions based on which we will decide the composition and functioning of the SIT, fixing its jurisdiction, and its terms of reference.
We have about one week's time to do that.
Is the Shiv Sena on the same page? It was part of the Devendra Fadnavis government, which, according to you, did not arrest Ekbote and Bhide.
If the Shiv Sena was part of the Fadnavis government then, today we are part of the MVA which is led by Uddhavji Thackeray of the Shiv Sena.
We have complete faith that he will give justice to our demand.
It is on record that Bhide wanted to meet Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray, but the latter flatly refused to meet him.
This instance should suffice to send a signal to those who think that the Shiv Sena is not on the same page with us about our demand for the SIT.
Why is Sharad Pawar so keen to set up an SIT to probe the Bhima Koregaon violence?
It wasn't Pawar saheb who demanded a probe into the role of masterminds in the Bhima Koregaon violence.
It was Dr Nitin Raut and Varsha Gaikwad (the Congress MLA from Dharavi) from the Congress and Harshali Poddar of the Republican Panther Party on behalf of various Dalit organisations in Maharashtra, who are demanding composition of this SIT.
Pawar saheb called this meeting to discuss what happened during those two days and nights in Pune and only coordinated among various leaders.
He wants to get the bigger picture from all the Dalit leaders and other stakeholders in the MVA.