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Panipat v/s Koregaon: Two battles, two contested narratives

5 20 75

In 2012, a motorcycle rally had started from Pune and came all the way to Panipat to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Third Battle of Panipat in which the Maratha confederacy was soundly defeated by an Indo-Afghan alliance on January 14, 1761. This correspondent had reported it then.

A similar “pilgrimage” was also undertaken the following year. The then Congress-led Haryana government had encouraged it and announced the creation of a ‘Haryana Maharashtra Maitri Dwar’, and scholarships for serious researches into Panipat.

Similar events have happened ever since at various places to commemorate this battle and celebrate Maratha valour and the “thousands who perished for the honour of India”. There has never been any trouble from any quarter about this. Nor any intellectual challenge. So why did it suddenly become a problem when Dalits decided to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon and celebrate the valour shown by the Mahars?

The Bhima Koregaon obelisk commemorating the British victory

Historian Shraddha Kumbhojkar in a 2015 essay titled ‘Politics, caste and the remembrance of the Raj: the obelisk at Koregaon’ in an academic book said this is due to pseudomnesia or “false memories manufactured for elite consumption”.

“During the 1970s, Maharashtra witnessed a spate of popular (a) historical Marathi novels on the bestseller lists. Many of them dominate the historical understanding and perceptions of the Marathi-speaking middle classes even today. An important novel from this genre, authored by a brahmin, describes the battle of Koregaon in passing. Mantravegla by N S Inamdar, based on the life of Baji Rao II, claims that the battle was won by the Peshwas,” Kumbhojkar wrote.

“This trend of creating pseudo-memories is more pronounced today. The third battle of Panipat, which saw the rout of the Peshwa army in 1761, is commemorated at high-sounding rallies. Indeed, the rhetoric used during these rallies could lead one to believe it was the Peshwa who won at Panipat,” she further wrote.

Even before the violence broke out, those opposed to the Koregaon commemoration event had been commenting online and offline how this was “not a British victory but defeat”, how the role played by the Mahars/Dalits in that battle was of “traitors”, how colonial battles shouldn’t be commemorated, and how battles where Indians fought other Indians shouldn’t be glorified. This has picked up pace in the aftermath of the violence.

These arguments tend to justify Benedotto Croce’s statement that “all history is contemporary history”—that historical events are understood from the point of view of the current situation of the person writing it or reading it. Not only is the role of the Mahars in that battle denied, the fact that it were Arabs (Muslims) who had fought for the Peshwa and died by their hundreds is also not acknowledged often by the pro-Peshwa groups. And this is because of the flawed understanding that Maratha armies came entirely from the Marathi speaking areas of the country. Maratha armies were multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religion armies.

Selective amnesia also seems to be at play here, for at Panipat, too, Indians were fighting other Indians. The Marathas, who are today portrayed as “defenders of India”, had failed to get any help from the Jats or the Rajputana states.

Also, the Maratha alliance with the British to wipe out Tipu Sultan of Mysore and an earlier alliance by the Peshwa in 1756 with the British to destroy the Maratha naval commander Tulaji Angre tend to puncture the nationalist arguments.

“After the rout........

© The Times of India