202nd anniversary of Bhima Koregaon battle: Ajit Pawar, Prakash Ambedkar visit war memorial amid tight security
Thousands of people visit Bhima Koregaon village to offer their tributes on the anniversary of the battle, which was fought on 1 January, 1818, between the British East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy.
Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar on Wednesday paid tribute at the 'Jay Stambh' on the 202nd anniversary of Bhima Koregaon battle.
Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) chief Prakash Ambedkar also paid tribute at the Koregaon Bhima war memorial.
As many as 10,000 police officers, over 500 CCTV cameras and 15 drone cameras are keeping strong vigil on the event.
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 have 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.
In early morning, 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'.
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 1 January, 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. The police officer said that local residents are extending their cooperation and help to ensure that the event passes off peacefully, unlike the January 1, 2018 incident.
Smarter from the previous experience, 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.
Talking to reporters after visiting the victory pillar, Ajit 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," the senior NCP leader said.
As per the Dalit narrative, around 500 soldiers from the dalit Mahar caste, who were 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 Ambedkarite movement, visit the Jaystambh on 1 January 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 valor showcased by those who sacrificed their lives in the battle and go ahead in their life," he said
Meanwhile, Prakash Ambedkar claimed that 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 without elaborating.
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.
Union minister and RPI (A) chief Athawale also praisedthe district administration for making "good arrangements". Elaborate security is also maintained at historic Vadhu Budruk village, located near Perne.
Last week, Pune Police had issued notices to several people, including right-wing leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, and members of Kabir Kala Manch, barring them from entering the district for four days from 29 December.
The notices, as part of a preventive action, were issued to all those against whom cases were registered in connection with the violence two years ago. Ekbote was arrested in March 2018 for allegedly instigating and orchestrating the violence around Koregaon Bhima. Bhide was also booked and named in the FIR, but never arrested.
The police attributed the 2018 violence to the ElgaaParishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, where provocative speeches were allegedly made. Police are also probing the alleged "Maoist link" of some activists to the Elgaar Parishad conclave.
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