On Tuesday, the first phase turnout of devotees at the Chaityabhoomi at Dadar to observe the 50th death anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar that comes up on Wednesday came as a surprise to the police, who said it was far below the expected figure.
A top source in the Mumbai police intelligence unit told HT on Tuesday that by 5 pm on Tuesday; barely 6,000 people had reached the Shivaji Park venue. Last year, at this precise hour, the figure was about 20,000 by that time.
In fact, the police were expecting as many as 50,000 people by 5 pm on Tuesday going by their own intelligence inputs and claims made by Dalit leaders. "Every year, by 5 pm on December 6 eves, not less than 20,000 people arrive at the Shivaji Park," said the source that refused to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the press.
However, the figure was expected go up late in the night when the major chunk of the devotees arrive from Vidarbha and Western Maharashtra, the Dalit strongholds in the state.
Police Commissioner AN Roy also agreed that the crowd turnout by the evening was 'lesser' as compared to figure the last year. He however, refused disclose the exact figure. He said that last year, the total convergence at the Shivaji Park was between eight and ten lakhs. This year, the projected figure stands between 15-20 lakh. The commissioner said that he was not aware of the government decision to announce a local holiday on Wednesday, as urged by the police earlier.
Sources said that the arrival of devotees was likely to pick up late in the night when trains arrived from Vidarbha and Western Maharashtra, the two regions in the state which traditionally attracts the maximum devotees for the Mahaparinirvan Diwas over the years.
Our Nashik Correspondent Adds:
Indications coming in from different sources point to an average turn out on Wednesday, far less than the expected 10 lakh.
"Generally trains used to be overpacked with Ambedkarites heading for Mumbai from December 3 onwards. However, this time we have not seen even 10 per cent of the anticipated traffic in these past few days," Nashik Road station manager DS Rathod said.
Many visitors also admitted to their apprehension of entering Mumbai during these troubled times. Narayan Passi, a land labourer from Chindwada district in Madhya Pradesh admitted that people were fearful of going to Mumbai due to the recent incidents of violence reported across the state.
Pramod Sajkhare, a dalit activist also admitted that a lot of families were forcing their youngsters not to undertake the journey, anticipating trouble.
Meanwhile, the Nashik railway police, anticipating huge crowd has also increased surveillance and provided escorts to most of the trains passing through the town. This is in view of the fact that last year, five Dalit activists were arrested for allegedly raping a 20-year-old woman in Pawan Express while it was plying between Mumbai and Nashik.