For a fortnight, social media has been abuzz with factual and fictional accounts about what happened at Bhima Koregaon in 1818—and why it remains relevant even now. All of it, since the start of this year that marks the 200th anniversary of a historic event associated with the rugged village in west-central India. It’s there that a war memorial stands as a symbol of Dalit pride, as 22 soldiers of the underprivileged Mahar caste died fighting in a battle between the British and a military force under the Maratha empire.
On the New Year day of 2018, people heading for the victory pillar near Pune were attacked, allegedly by Hindutva forces, killing a young man. It triggered protests the following day, prompting several human-rights groups and Dalit activists to organise a state-wide bandh. A cloud of unrest lingers across Maharashtra, potentially hinting at the start of a new era for negotiating the socio-political power structures for Dalits and Marathas. It may also portend a fresh challenge for the state’s ruling BJP that sits in an uneasy alliance with the RPI, Ramdas Athawle’s Ambekarite party.
Late jurist-politician-reformer Bhimrao Ambedkar, the architect of India’s Constitution, was himself from the Mahar community that was considered untouchable. The January 3 bandh was largely successful, with Dalit leaders Prakash Ambedkar and Jignesh Mewani emerging as the front leaders of the energetic agitations. A relentless Prakash, also the grandson of Ambedkar, has freshly attacked the BJP government, saying it did not act against the perpetrators of the attack on Dalits. He has slammed the regime for alleged combing operations in Bhima Koregaon and places such as Aurangabad and Latur, detaining as many as 3,000 youths.
The Left sees it was a “plan” was to create...