Dalit political parties irked by Centre's unwillingness to allocate the entire 12.5-acre India United Mill plot for the proposed Dr BR Ambedkar memorial stepped up agitations across the city on Thursday.
Hundreds of activists of Republican Party of India (Athavale) teamed up with another Dalit outfit, the Republican Sena and staged a blockade on the Eastern Express Highway, throwing traffic out of gear. The protesters burnt effigies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and demanded that the entire plot be assigned for the memorial and other facilities, including a social justice university for the Dalit youth and a vihara for monks.
Demonstrators also stormed the India United Mill, also referred to as Indu Mill premises and threatened to not leave unless chief minister Prithviraj Chavan agreed to their demands.
“The agitation will get stronger till the government parts with the land. We want the prime minister to make a statement that the entire land will be given for the memorial. There is no hurdle; the land belongs to the central government,'' said RPI (A) leader Ramdas Athawale.
On Wednesday, union minister of state for textiles Panabaka Lakshmi told the Rajya Sabha that the Centre would allocate 4 of the 12.5 acres of the Indu Mill plot for the memorial.
Some activists and monks owing allegiance to the Republican Sena, a little known Dalit outfit led by Dr Ambedkar's grandson Anandraj Ambedkar, have been camping inside mill premises since December 6. Ambedkar said his agitation was not for political gains but represented the anger among Dalits at having their demands ignored.
“We don't expect much from this government. It took them decades to even put a portrait of Dr Ambedkar in the Parliament,” Ambedkar said. “Now, the NTC wants to build a five star hotel. Is that valid given that our demand has been pending for last 10 years,'' he asked. Ambedkar said that though he disagreed with Athawale's pre-poll pact with the Sena-BJP, all Dalit groups had a common cause in this agitation.
The proposal for the memorial has been pending for nearly a decade and the posturing by Dalit outfits seems to be timed with the upcoming civic elections in mind. The Dalit votebank accounts for 15% of the state's voters and could affect results of the municipal corporations in cities like Mumbai, Nasik and Thane. With these equations in mind, the Congress and the NCP tried to woo the Dalit voter and the CM even announced on December 6 that the entire 12.5 acres of the mill would be turned into a memorial.
However, the Centre's stance on the project has presented Chavan with a situation that threatens to spiral into a political nightmare.
No arrests made: cops
Mumbai: The Shivaji Park police registered a case of unlawful assembly against protestors who forcibly gained entry into the Indu Mill compound on Thursday evening.
A group of protestors demanding the land be allotted for construction of a memorial for Dr BR Ambekdar forcibly gained entry in the compound, said Shivaji Park police. “The crowd, including members of Republican Party of India (Athawle) was later evicted. A case of unlawful assembly was registered against the protestors as they did not have permission to enter the compound,” said Vineet Agarwal, additional commissioner of police (central region). No arrests have been made in the case, he added.
According to an officer from Shivaji Park police, over 800 protestors entered the mill compound, and burnt papers and plastic lying in the premises. Later, they hoisted their party flag and clicked photographs before being ejected by the police.
Meanwhile, traffic in the area was hit because of the protests. Police, however, warned motorists of diversions through SMS alerts. Traffic eventually eased out by 6pm.