Maharashtra Riots & The Battle of Koregaon

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There are no two opinions that one of the main reasons why British succeeded in India was the success of their divide and rule policy. Unfortunately India continues to be a divided society even today seventy years after independence. On one hand the upper castes have failed to change their mindset and in making meaningful contributions towards upliftment of the weaker and oppressed sections of the society. On the other minority appeasement and exploitation of reservations policies meant for Dalits/ backward classes have become tools in the hands of politicians to garner votes at the expense of majority. Both these factors have not only become barriers against development of a harmonious society but have also contributed towards hardening of attitudes between different sections of the Indian population.

The dubious role played by some of our highly educated liberals, community leaders and social activists has also played its part in keeping the society divided. In their pursuit to seek personal fame, funds from abroad and being anti establishment they have thrived in championing the cause of the poor, backward and under developed sections of the society in a superficial manner at the cost of antagonising rest of the society. This set of people never tried to be the bridge between different sections of the society; instead they prospered by increasing the divide for selfish motives.
The caste based communal clashes reported from Maharashtra in last few days have been engineered without a doubt by vested interests. In principle the very belief that the battle of Bhima Koregaon, that took place about 200 years ago, was fought by Dalits against the atrocities of upper caste Maratha Brahmins is nothing but a myth. It is mere folklore that seems to have gained currency over the years. The reality is that it was a battle between the British and Maratha armies as the British wanted to bring the Maratha Kingdom under their control. The British forces included a few English soldiers, a platoon (about 30-40 soldiers) of Mahars (believed to be from Dalit community), a company (about 100 soldiers) of Dogras (from foothills in North India) and some other troops of mixed origin. The Maratha (Peshwa) army comprised of local troops of all denominations including Brahmins and dalits. It can be safely assumed that very few soldiers in the Peshwa army would have been of Brahmin origin since in those days the primary role of Brahmins was in religion, education and as advisors to the rulers. This battle is a prime example of the divide and rule policy of the British where they made Indians fight one another and in the end there was only one winner – the British Empire. This battle too was no exception as the British defeated the Marathas. It may also be prudent to mention here that both the Mahar and Dogra regiments of the Indian Army stopped celebrating this victory long back. This decision was taken after they realised that in reality they had been used by the British to further their own interests and the defeat of Marathas was in a way defeat of India.

Therefore any notion that this battle was waged by backward classes or Dalits against upper caste Brahmins to fight for their rights or to seek revenge for atrocities committed is totally false. This false notion is being exploited by local leaders to further their own agendas. The fact that in last seventy years the plight of dalits and many other backward communities continues to remain unchanged in many parts of the country is certainly a sad commentary on our political leadership and government policies. To assume that last three years of BJP rule has worsened the situation would be untrue. If that were the case then BJP would not have got the kind of electoral support it has received from all sections of the society across India. In fact Uttar Pradesh, home to perhaps the largest population of dalits and backward classes in the country, voted BJP to power in an unprecedented manner. This would never have been possible without a sizeable share of Dalit and backward classes’ votes.

This lends credence to the fact that Dalits and backward classes see some ray of hope with BJP government in power. One must also remember that most Dalits and backward castes are Hindus by religion and BJP owes its success in last three years to this ‘Hindu power’ as a whole. Therefore any insinuation that BJP is anti Dalit or against backward classes does not hold much water. To its credit the current government has put into force many pro poor policies that are aimed at inclusion of dalits and backward communities into mainstream Indian development story. Where the BJP falls short is when it comes to dealing with minority religious communities (read Muslim community) and that is why last three years have seen mainly Hindu – Muslim communal problems. Most of anti communal rantings of BJP leaders from UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Kerala, West Bengal or Maharashtra have always been anti Muslim in content. There have been hardly any instances where BJP fringe has derided Dalit or backward communities.

In view of the focus shifting to communal rather than caste based issues, it may not be farfetched to assume that some local Dalit leaders like Prakash Ambedkar, Jyoti Jagtap and Datta Pol may have felt the ground slipping from under their feet and therefore decided to fuel caste based riots with help of outsiders. The fact that affluent sections of the society like Patels, Jats and Marathas have been agitating for reservations too would be worrying them. The presence of Jignesh Mewani, the maverick young Dalit leader from Gujarat, in Maharashtra along with other known anti establishment (and anti BJP) trouble makers like Umar Khalid and Maulana Abdul Hamid (AIMPLB) certainly supports this argument. Does Maulana Hamid or Umar Khalid have anything to do with celebrations of the battle of Koregaon? One wonders why Mewani, a recently elected MLA from Gujarat, is not focussing on working for his constituency and instead fuelling trouble in Maharashtra. It is obvious he is looking for a greater audience to further his own interests and spread his influence beyond Gujarat. Without a doubt there were some local leaders from among Brahmins and upper castes too who took advantage of the situation to fish in troubled waters. However the more serious issue here is the role of seasoned and senior national leaders like Congress President who are encouraging the likes of Mewani and Umar Khalid in such misadventures that can only harm the nation.

No nation can hope to reach the goals of development if its society is divided on the basis of religion or castes or any other reason. The principle of divide and rule comes with some inherent limitations which are detrimental to development and ensure fragmentation of the society. This will hurt any nation that is aspiring to be counted among the world’s more developed economies and committed to taking development and modernisation to every part of the country. It will be futile to blame the opposition or anti BJP forces in the country. It will be equally futile to expect the opposition to behave in a constructive manner. The onus is on Mr Modi and his government to take stock of the vitiating environment – both communal and caste based – that is taking shape in the country and to implement effective measures to check its spread in a dispassionate and impartial manner. Only when this is achieved will ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ become a reality.

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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