Did gangster Haji Mastan start the tradition of #BhimaKoregaon commemoration?

That’s what riots accused Milind Ekbote seems to claim in his affidavit, though Mastan would have been 10 months old at the time.

ByPrateek Goyal
Did gangster Haji Mastan start the tradition of #BhimaKoregaon commemoration?
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On the 62nd death anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar, certain claims from an affidavit have come to light. The affidavit was filed by Milind Ekbote, who has been accused by Dalit organisations for inciting the riots at Koregaon-Bhima village on January 1 this year, during the 200th commemoration of the battle of Koregaon-Bhima.

According to Ekbote’s affidavit, submitted to the Koregaon-Bhima Judicial Commission on June 9, 2018, it was the smuggler and gangster Haji Mastan in 1980 who started the commemoration of the Koregaon-Bhima battle.

Interestingly, as per records, it was about five decades ago in 1927 that Dr BR Ambedkar first visited the site to commemorate the event at a time when Haji Mastan was less than one year old.

Ekbote, the leader of the Samast Hindu Aghadi, was made accused in the riots after a woman identified as Anita Sawale, member of the Bahujan Republican Socialist Party, registered a complaint against him and Sambhaji Bhide, leader of the Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, for rioting at Koregaon-Bhima on January 1st, 2018. Ekbote and Bhide have been charged under Sections 307 (attempt to murder), 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc.), and 435 (mischief by destroying or moving, etc., a landmark fixed by public authority mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage) of the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of the Arms Act and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

In the affidavit, Ekbote said, “It was the infamous smuggler Haji Mastan who started the commemoration of Koregaon-Bhima battle near Vijay Stambh (Victory Memorial) in 1980 and not Dr BR Ambedkar … I have studied the biography of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and according to what I have studied, fighting from British side (referring to the Battle of Koregaon-Bhima fought between the forces of Peshwa and British in 1818) was never a matter of pride for him. The commemoration of the battle at Vijay Stambh was started by Haji Mastan and not Dr Ambedkar. Because of the encouragement given by Haji Mastan to this commemoration, it gradually became a big event. This commemoration was done to create a divide in the society. Now the participation of Naxals have also increased in this program.”

A section of Ekbote’s affidavit.

Ekbote further said in his affidavit that some “Naxalites and Leftists” who didn’t have public support started a “Prerna march” (Prerna march yatra) from December 23, 2017, to mobilise people for the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the battle. He said while that was the declared intention, it was actually used to create a divide on the basis of caste lines in Maharashtra. He claimed the entire event of Elgar Parishad at Shaniwarwada was organised by “Urban Naxals” and no Ambedkarite was involved in it.

Countering this, noted historian Hari Narke says, “As a student of history, there is important evidence which clearly states that Dr Ambedkar visited the victory memorial for the first time in 1927, and started celebrating the festival of Koregaon-Bhima battle in that year. That same year, he started the Mahad revolution for Dalits who were not allowed to drink water from the lakes in Mahad region of Raigad district.”

Narke adds, “The year Dr Ambedkar visited [that] victory memorial at Koregaon-Bhima on January 1, 1927, Haji Mastan was around nine or 10 months old as he was born in March 1926.”

Narke published a biography of Dr Ambedkar which was commissioned by the government of Maharashtra. He says, “Volume 22 of the book Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches is a photobiography and an official government publication. In this book, this evidence is noted and you can see his photograph along with others while he visited the victory memorial at Koregaon-Bhima on January 1st, 1927. There is a pictorial and written evidence of this incidence.” The photo accompanying this story is one such example.

Newslaundry repeatedly tried to contact Milind Ekbote. However, he was unavailable for comment.

Newslaundry also contacted V Palnitkar, secretary of the Koregaon-Bhima Judicial Commission for comment. Palnitkar said, “We have just collected the affidavits from many people, and are going to examine them one by one. We are also going to examine the claims made by Milind Ekbote in his affidavit.” Nearly 365 affidavits have been filed by the state government, individuals and organisations till date in the case.

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