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Politics won; Maharashtra lost!

Thursday, January 11, 2018
By Bharatkumar Raut

The year 2018 dawned in Maharashtra with a different challenge. The year has posed a serious challenge to the socio-cultural fabric of Maharashtra that so far has been boasting about its rich social heritage and of the legacy of great saints and social reformers like Chhatrapati Shahu, Mahatma Phule and Dr. babasaheb Ambedkar. The onset of the year witnessed ugly riots between Dalits on one side, Marathas on the other and also Brahmins. Though the fire of community divide and hatred has by now been extinguished, what happened in the state on the issue of 200th anniversary of the historic Bhima-Koregaon battle between the forces of the then East India Company and the Peshwas way back in 1818 has left deep scares on the socio-cultural-political life of the state. They are frightening. Another major concern is that the riots and later the response that the Maharashtra Bandh call received all over has made it clear that the volcano of community hatred may re-erupt any time. It looks like Maharashtra is once again sitting on a volcano that could burst any time and with smallest ignition.

It all happened during the first three days of the year. A lot is said and written about the history of the class and caste war since then. Therefore without going in to the 200 plus-year ugly history of the caste war, I wish to focus on the impact of the series of incidents those took place prior and post incidents on the social and political life of the state. Whoever may have won or lost the visible and invisible games those unfolded during this time, the most unfortunate outcome of this war is that it has led Maharashtra two hundred years backward. When the world was entering 2018, Maharashtra pushed back itself to 1818. This is the sad commentary.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis promptly instituted judicial inquiry of the riots. The moot question is will the sitting judge summon leaders like Sharad Pawar and Ramdas Athavale to depose? Will the Commission bring in controversial personalities like Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote to answer questions? Failing to get these people on record, the enquiry would be of no use.

Maratha history
The most important and significant question is why and how did the unfortunate incidents take place? Arguably the root-causes of the sudden outburst of community feelings particularly in the Western Maharashtra's Pune region are hidden in the latter half of the Maratha history of 17th and 18th century. During this period, Maharashtra was ruled by Peshwas, those coming from up-class Brahmin community. Atrocities against the downtrodden Dalits were said to the order of the day during that period. The stories of the inhumane treatment mated out to the oppressed population still linger in the minds of the Dalits. Though the Independent India has brought in equality to all castes by law and many Dalits have been living much better life after the era of Reservations in education, employment and politics, they continue to nurse the deep wounds of the humiliation those their forefathers suffer for generations.

Though invisibly this sense of divide led to the conflict with the smallest incident of ignition and the riots flared up. The State Government that has the responsibility of maintaining Law and Order was also caught napping. The State Home Department (held by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis himself) also did not gauge the mood of both sides when the 200th Anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon War was planned. Actually, for many years hundreds of Dalits do pilgrimage to the village that saw the defeat of the Peshwas and have been celebrating it as 'Vijay Din' (Victory Day). Never ever in the Independent India was there any untoward incident. This history kept the Government and the Police Force in dark about the plot that was been hatched to create disturbance by both sides. This was really the failure of the government intelligence and some heads must roll quickly.

The Republican Party of India (RPI) is the most dominant political outfit controlling Dalit minds and votes; there are some organisations leaders those have palpable influence over Dalit population. Most of them treat the upper castes and their parties (here read the BJP) as their enemies for the obvious political reasons. Ever since the BJP came to power in India and in India, the sway of the Dalit parties and organisations over the downtrodden class began to recede.
The pointer is the BJP has won many of the seats predominantly of Dalit electorate. Shrewd Dalit politicians like Ramdas Athavale in Maharashtra and Ram Vilas Paswan in Bihar having sizable influence in their respective states gauged the changed direction of wind and jumped in to the ruling bandwagon and bagged seats of power. Thus, those who missed the bus had to take obvious stance and galvanize their attack on the BJP once again. They took the opportunity and made fiery speeches to invoke Dalit feelings. These groups invited Gujarati young Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani, the new hero of Gujarat to Pune on the eve of the function at Bhima-Koregaon. On the other hand, the upper caste Hindus were also up in arm against the Dalits. Quiet annoyed with the 200th Anniversary extravaganza, some of them hatched plots to 'teach them lesson'. Curiously, some top and towering Maratha leaders happen to be part of the navigating team that guided the Marathas from behind the curtain.

The outcome was the riots and the unprecedented response to the 'Maharashtra Band' call given by Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr. B R Ambedkar. Actually, Ambedkar junior had lost sway over the Dalit minds after the emergence of Athavale. However, now that the latter has joined the ruling side and occupied ministerial berth, was handicapped and could not take advantage of the situation. The vacuum was filled in by Ambedkar Junior. Unexpectedly, he received a mammoth response and some 250 organisations joined him to execute the Bandh. As a result, it achieved a mammoth success. This event has given yet another opportunity to him to prove his leadership qualities.

BJP gained; BJP lost
Now, what does the BJP and allies get out of it?

It has lost and gained too. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been working overtime to ensure continued support of the lower castes to him and the BJP, the Bhima-Koregaon incident has served a punch on his face. However, looking at the other side, whatever happened in Maharashtra and the role of the media that continuously fired salvos against Modi, he has now managed to consolidate the support of all non-Dalit, non-Muslim votes. The massive vote bank of upper caste Hindus and OBCs that constitute for over 75 per cent of the total electorate will come decisively handy for him in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

In short the fabric of caste harmony in Maharashtra that was weaved by many saints and social leaders who spread the thought of togetherness beyond caste and religion has begun to wither out. Perhaps, political leaders like Sharad Pawar and Ramdas Athavale may get political gains out of this unfortunate situation, but Maharashtra has gone in a reverse gear for sure. Whosoever may win politically, Maharashtra has surely lost. That is the underlying fact.

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