Gujarat MLA and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani on Friday denied allegations that he had made provocative speeches on December 31 at the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. Violence broke out in parts of Mumbai, Pune and Aurangabad after a man was killed in clashes in Bhima Koregaon near Pune during the celebrations.
On Thursday, the Mumbai Police denied permission to the All India Students Summit where Mevani and Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Umar Khalid were invited to speak. The police had forcibly removed students present at the venue to attend the event organised by student union Chhatra Bharti. The refusal came a day after a complaint was filed against Mevani and Khalid in Pune for allegedly making provocative speeches at Bhima Koregaon.
“Not a single word of my speech was inflammatory, I am just being targeted,” Mevani said about the complaint at the Delhi Press Club. “No part of my speech was provocative or inflammatory.”
The Dalit leader said his speech was available publicly for everyone to see, and that he had not visited the memorial in Bhima Koregaon either. “Despite being in Maharashtra when the shutdown was called, I did not participate in it,” he said. “When the police refused permission to hold the students’ event in Mumbai on Wednesday, I did not participate in it.”
The Vadgam MLA said if an elected representative in India is not allowed to carry out a rally, then it “speaks volumes” about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s conduct. “If we want to fight fascism, or if we want to end exploitation in this country, then we will have to take the fight to the streets,” he said. “This means we will have to conduct a people’s movement within the ambit of the law.”
The prime minister and his government must explain whether they are committed to annihilate caste system in this country, Mevani said. “Why is the monster of caste still alive?” he asked.
He said members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party had made a “childish” attempt to tarnish his image. “It is an after effect of the Gujarat Assembly election results,” he said. “It is also because they are scared about 2019.”
Bhima Koregaon clashes
Lakhs of people gather at in Bhima Koregaon near Pune every New Year’s Day to commemorate the victory of the English, whose troops comprised mostly Mahar soldiers, against the Brahmin Peshwa-led Maratha Empire in 1818. Many Dalits celebrate the defeat of the Peshwas as the first step in their continuing struggle against caste-based oppression.
Clashes broke out in Bhima Koregaon and its surrounding areas during celebrations of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon on Monday, after some people – reportedly with saffron flags – pelted stones at cars going towards the village.