PUNE: On the eve of the 201st anniversary of the Koregaon Bhima battle, thousands of visitors Monday paid tribute at the 'jay stambh' near Perne village in Maharashtra's Pune district amidst heavy security while locals accorded them a "warm" welcome and arranged for their food.
Around 18,000 to 20,000 visitors who have come from various parts of Maharashtra visited the victory pillar, police said.
Contrary to the scene of January 1 this year when caste clashes had broken out around Koregaon Bhima village, the villagers were Monday seen welcoming the visitors with roses and water bottles, they said.
Arrangements were also made for food, water and providing other logistical support.
"Majority of the visitors, mainly youths, reached here today from the Vidarbha and the Marathawada regions of the state and paid tribute at the memorial," said a police officer.
The 'jay stambh' had been erected by the British as a memorial for the soldiers killed in the Koregaon Bhima battle on January 1, 1818.
In the Dalit narrative, the battle is the victory over casteism as the British army comprising a large contingent of dalit Mahar soldiers had defeated the forces of Peshwas--the Brahmin custodians of the Maratha kingdom.
Unlike January 1 this year, all shops, hotels, lodges and commercial establishments remained opened in the area, with people offering visitors free food and other refreshments.
Ashok Athawale, a resident of Sanaswadi whose house and a fabrication unit were torched during the violence earlier this year, said his entire family is offering food to visitors and ensuring that they are not inconvenienced.
"We are expecting a huge footfall to the tune offew lakhs on Tuesday but the police and district administration are all geared up to provide them necessary facilities, and all arrangements have been done," said Sandip Patil, Superintendent of Police, Pune Rural, who is camping at the memorial.
Special IG, Vishwas Nangare Patil said the police will focus on areas like crowd and traffic control and maintaining law and order while keeping eye on any sabotage activities.
As part of a security measure, police held a route march around the memorial this evening.
Meanwhile, dalit leader and Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad Monday reiterated his plan to visit the victory pillar even if the government uses force to deter him.
Azad could not hold a public rally in Pune, after the Bombay High Court Monday refused to pass any orders to the Pune Police to permit the Bhim Army to conduct public meetings in the city.
Azad visited historic places such as Phule Wada, Lal Mahal and held meetings with members of his outfit in the day.