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Sharad Pawar was right all along

mumbai Updated: Jan 09, 2018 18:22 IST
Sujata Anandan
NCP chief Sharad Pawar

NCP chief Sharad Pawar(HT File)

Three years ago, Sharad Pawar, while campaigning for the 2014 assembly elections, had asked the people of Maharashtra if they wanted to return the state to Peshwai (read Brahmin) rule. At the time, I had thought he was being unnecessarily casteist and never stopped lamming him for that statement that did not sit well on a leader of his stature and eminence.

After last week’s violence at Bhima-Koregaon, I am beginning to wonder if he was right after all. For the Sangh ideologues who have been identified as the conspirators and instigators of the violence were clearly out to set one community (Dalits) against the other (Marathas). That the Marathas refused to fight against the Dalits despite the death of a Maratha youth in that violence and that Dalit leaders too acted with exemplary restraint is a testimony to the fact that Maharashtra has still not lost much of its socialist ethos and continues to be an essentially harmonious state despite the best efforts of certain sections of the society to destroy peace and amity among various groups.

In recent years, we have seen much angst among Marathas and Dalits essentially because of the changes rural society has undergone since Independence. Land resources of Marathas have depleted and they have got increasingly poor while the once-deprived Dalits have benefited from reservations and ended up in superior positions compared to the one-time rulers of Maharashtra.

Yet they continued to be held in contempt by the now not-so-landed gentry and that social turmoil was bound to seek an outlet. Which it did in the form of the massive silent morchas of Marathas after the brutal rape and murder of a minor girl from their community by Dalit youths in July 2015. But it needs underlining the fact that even that anger did not result in violence on either side, even when Marathas were demanding the dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. There was some sabre rattling on either side but neither community was moved to act further in the matter and stayed within the framework of the law in their assertions and demands.

That was disappointing to their common enemy - the Brahmins, who, having been kept on a tight leash by successive Maratha-dominated governments, have been newly assertive in recent months. Not without reason a ridiculous case, unsustainable under the law, was filed some months ago against a Maratha cook by a Brahmin scientist for hurting her religious sentiments by cooking (however delicious) food for her gods while not revealing her non-Brahmin identity. But the Maratha community as both medieval and modern day rulers of the state had enough confidence in their own superior status to laugh that off and take the insult no further.

Bhima-Koregaon is a symbol of their own superior warring skills for the Mahars of the state and they have been celebrating that victory over the Peshwa army for 200 years without anyone taking note of the celebrations. This year, though, they planned a yatra that was to culminate at the Shanivarwada, the seat of the Peshwas in the18th century, from where they ruled much of India. Media reports have undervalued the role of the Brahman Mahasangh of Pune in fanning the flames of the fire that broke out on January 1. It was they who had a major issue with former untouchables defiling the Shanivarwada and provoked the Pune municipal corporation, ruled by the BJP, to cancel the permission for the yatra and break the confidence of the Mahar community in their new found equality under the law.

It is sinister that at first the conspirators tried to push the blame for the violence onto Sharad Pawar, the Marathas and the Shiv Sena in that order - I was horrified when a Facebook page, in a seemingly Dalit name, emerged calling for the assassination of Sharad Pawar, saying, “Killing Pawar in national interest would not be a sin.” It would be a crime, however and NCP MLA Jeetendra Awhad has lodged an FIR against that post and police are looking to identify the originator of that page. Now another individual has been arrested in Solapur for similarly using Facebook to falsely spread rumours of a Maharashtra bandh allegedly called by Marathas on Wednesday

I am stunned that no stone is left unturned to create a conflagration between Marathas and Dalits. I am also now certain Sharad Pawar was right in not wanting his beloved state to go into the wrong hands.