Maharashtra burns as Pune caste clash fire spreads
Judicial inquiry ordered into violence; state bandh called on Wednesday

Several towns and cities in Maharashtra were on edge on Tuesday as Dalit protests against Monday’s violence in Pune spilled over to capital Mumbai, with agitators damaging scores of buses, and disrupting road and rail traffic, officials said.

Clashes between Dalit groups and supporters of right-wing Hindu organisations during the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in Pune district had left a man dead on Monday.

In Pune, cases were registered by the Pimpri police against Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, who head the Hindu Ekta Aghadi and Shivraj Pratishthan respectively, for allegedly inciting the violence. The two organisations had opposed the celebration of “British victory” in the battle.

Over 160 buses were damaged in Mumbai by rampaging protesters over 100 of whom were detained. Domestic carriers including government-owned Air India have waived charges for ticket cancellations and no show due to the unrest.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis ordered a judicial inquiry by a sitting judge of the Bombay High Court into the Pune violence, and appealed for calm. He said it needed to be ascertained if there was a conspiracy behind Monday’s violence.  Fadnavis said a Rs 10 lakh compensation would be given to kin of the youth killed and his death would be probed by the CID.

Prakash Ambedkar, the  Bahujan Mahasangh leader and grandson of BR Ambedkar, has called a Maharashtra bandh on Wednesday to protest against the government’s failure in stopping the violence.

Dalit groups were celebrating the bicetenary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle which the forces of the British East India Company had won over those belonging to the Peshwa.  Dalit leaders commemorate the British victory, as it is believed that soldiers from the Mahar community — then considered untouchable — were part of the East India Company’s forces. The Peshwas were Brahmins, and the victory was seen as a symbol of assertiveness by Dalits.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi called the event to celebrate the Bhima-Koregaon battle as a “potent symbol of resistance to RSS-BJP’s fascist vision”.

In Mumbai, protesters disrupted road traffic in the suburbs and local train services on the Harbour Line. They blocked roads in several areas, forced shops to shut down, and also attacked a journalist of a television news channel.

Protesters staged a rail roko in Chembur.  Groups of protesters held demonstrations in Chembur, Vikhroli, Mankhurd and Govandi.  Hundreds of protesters gathered in Priyadarshini, Kurla, Siddharth Colony and Amar Mahal areas on the Eastern Express Highway, took out processions and raised slogans against the government and the administration. 

Protests were also held in Kolhapur, Parbhani, Latur, Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Hingoli, Kolhapur, Nanded and Thane districts, police said.  Heavy security was deployed in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai. The Mumbai police, meanwhile, issued a statement appealing to people not to believe in rumours and verify facts with the police before posting anything on social media.

Maharashtra minister of state for home Deepak Kesarkar visited Bhima-Koregoan and neighbouring villages and said the situation was under control.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar blamed the administration for Monday’s violence and demanded a probe into the incident. Appealing for peace, Pawar said such situations need to be defused patiently by those in political and social spheres without any provocative speeches being made.

Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan condemned the violence and urged people not to believe in rumours. Antisocial elements were trying to create tensions between Dalits and Maratha communities for political benefit, he said.

Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde said the violence was unfortunate and condemnable. AAP spokesperson Preeti Sharma Menon said the Fadnavis government failed to keep peace. “The attack has resulted in unrest across the state between upper caste Hindus and Dalits,” she said.