Two years after caste clashes marred the Koregaon Bhima battle commemoration event in Pune district of Maharashtra, at least 8 lakh people on Wednesday visited the "Jaystambh" (victory pillar) in Perne village on the occasion of the 202nd anniversary of the historic battle in a peaceful manner amidst heavy security.
No untoward incident was reported throughout the day at the event which passed off peacefully, officials said. As a precautionary measure, Internet services in and around Koregaon Bhima remained suspended for the day. Services were resumed in the evening.
"The entire programme of commemoration took place as per our plans. We wanted this entire event to be free of any dispute or incident, and it happened as per the plans," Pune district collector Naval Kishore Ram said.
Police officials put the number of people who have visited the victory pillar at 8 lakh. Elaborate security was also maintained at historic Vadhu Budruk village, located near Perne.
The district administration and police officials held a string of meetings with villagers in the area over last one month to put in place the confidence-building measures to ensure peaceful commemoration of the 202nd anniversary of the January 1, 1818 battle.
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'.
Violent clashes had broken out in the area around Koregaon Bhima on the 200th anniversary of the historic battle on January 1, 2018, in which one person was killed and several others were injured. Pune superintendent of police Sandip Patil said local
residents cooperated with officials to ensure that the event passes off peacefully.
Smarter by the previous experience, police had 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) were deployed in the area," a police official said, adding that drone cameras were also used to monitor crowd.
As part of preparations, ample space was provided for installing stalls where various souvenirs and other items were sold, 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 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 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. He 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 praised the district administration for making "good arrangements". Addressing a meeting in Perne village, Athwale demanded implementation of the Koregaon Bhima development plan.
"As lots of people visit the memorial, there is a need of facilities to the visiting people in and around Koregaon Bhima and that is why there is a need of implementation of development plan of the village," he said. He also said that some people are inciting Muslims on the issue of CAA and NRC by distorting facts.
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 December 29. 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 Elgaar Parishad 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 who had attended the conclave.