For 200 years, the Mahar community, to which Dr BR Ambedkar belonged, has been commemorating their victory against the Peshwas at Bhima-Koregaon. The Peshwas were prime ministers to the Chhatrapati kings and their kingdom is generally referred to as the Maratha Kingdom. But the fact is that they were Chitpavan Brahmins who had marginalised the descendants of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. That is something the Marathas have never forgiven them for and while Mahars, as soldiers of the British Army, fought the Maratha Army of the Peshwas, most soldiers in that army were not Marathas but of Afghan Muslim origin.
The Mahars, the Marathas and the Brahmins are the three major communities/castes of Maharashtra and they have always been in conflict with each other. There are historical reasons for this bad blood. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the originator of the concept of Swaraj, had taken all castes and communities along in his war of liberation from foreign (Islamic) rule.
But once the Peshwas gained the upper hand following a dynastic battle among his immediate descendants, they returned the kingdom to varnashrama, or caste hierarchy, wherein they would not even accept Mahar soldiers into their army for reasons of untouchability. The Mahars joined the British Army to rise above their circumstances and slavery to upper castes and have always been particularly proud of their victory against the Peshwas on January 1 in 1818 which decimated the Maratha Empire and ceded almost the whole of India to the British.
In very recent years there has been some unrest between Mahars and Marathas, both of whom look upon the Brahmin community with suspicion. Following the brutal rape and murder of a minor Maratha girl by three Dalit youths in July 2015, there was much angst between the two communities.
Marathas led huge silent morchas seeking reservation and dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to which the Dalit community reacted with anger. The latter warned of their own agitation if the law was tampered with in any way. However, none of this led to any insurmountable problems between the two communities and communal harmony remained intact.
The simmering tensions through the past three years have actually been between Marathas who have always been the ruling community of Maharashtra and the Brahmins who now have control of the state. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is an RSS ideologue owing nothing to the Marathas who have one way or the other controlled Maharashtra since Independence.
The distrust between the two communities was clearly visible in the inability of veteran leader Sharad Pawar to rein in his emotions when he publicly asked the people of Maharashtra if they wanted to return the state to Peshwai (read Brahmin) rule.
Not surprising then that conspirators of the Bhima-Koregaon violence attempted to put the blame for the violence on Sharad Pawar, the Marathas and the Shiv Sena in that order - all three are at war with the BJP. When the police picked up a former BJP corporator Milind Ekbote and Sanghi ideologue Manohar alias Sambhaji Bhide for inciting violence, it was clear where the conspiracy had originated. And why.
It is the restraint on the part of both Maratha and Dalit leaders that defeated the conspiracy by Sangh ideologues to create a communal and caste conflagration in Maharashtra ahead of next year's parliamentary and Assembly elections. Prakash Ambedkar, president of the Bharip-Bahujan Mahasangh, who called the bandh and ensured it remained non-violent, has now demanded the arrests of Ekbote and Bhide while Congress state president Ashok Chavan, who was swift to avow Marathas and Mahars, have never had issues with each other, demanded the resignation of Fadnavis not just for his failure to control the violence of January 1, but also for allowing his party's supporters to hatch and effect the conspiracy against the people who have gathered at the memorial in Bhima Koregaon for 200 years without any trouble or hurting sentiments of any community.
Why this was actually a Brahmin versus Dalit war and not spontaneous is apparent from the rumblings that began in the Brahman Mahasangh in Pune about the 'Elgaar Yatra', a state-wide procession that would have been taken out to celebrate 200 years of their victory by the Dalits. The Yatra was to culminate in Shanivarwada, the seat of the Peshwas in Pune, from where they governed most of India in the 18th century.
The BJP controls the Pune Municipal Corporation and all MLAS and the MP from the city belong to the BJP. Voices arose against permission granted to the yatra which would essentially be against the Peshwas' defeat and a political colour was added to the situation when the BJP, which is increasingly positioning itself as a representative of Brahmins in Maharashtra, learnt that newly elected Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani, the BJP's latest bète noire, and Radhika Vermula, mother of Rohith Vermula, the Dalit student who committed suicide at Hyderabad Central University in January 2015, would be joining the yatra.
The violence was thus Brahmin assertion against The Dalits. Fortunately, they did not succeed in taking it forward beyond January 1. Dalits in and around the village continue to live in fear of their lives but they are now mulling over Sharad Pawar's assertion that Brahmin rule may not be the ideal one for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj's descendants. Expect a realignment of forces ahead of the 2019 elections.