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Wadgaon Wins the Battle

Wadgaon Wins the Battle

Author: Vinita Deshmukh
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: December 9, 2001

Introduction: As Hollywood gears up to film the tale of an Indian triumph against the mighty British empire, Vinita Deshmukh applauds the Puneites who took the first step to rescue history

Think of a small village about 45 kms north-west of Pune on the Pune-Mumbai National Highway no.4. Think of the all-conquering British Empire. Think of a Maratha chieftain valiantly guarding his land and folk. Think Wadgaon in 1779.

A fierce battle was fought here between the Marathas and English, with Mahadji Shinde, the great general and ancestor of the Scindia family of Gwalior, as the Maratha leader and brain behind the victory for the Marathas. The Battle of Wadgaon, wherein the Marathas inflicted a humiliating defeat on the English has uptil now remained blurred in the passages of Anglo-Maratha history. Now, thanks to the efforts of some eminent Pune citizens, the battle has been admirably remembered and given its rightful place in Indian history to serve as an example and inspiration for the youth.

Today, a victory pillar has been erected and stands silent testimony to a chapter in Indian history that was not very well-known. The objective is to spread the message that 'Indians are second to none'.

Not only have the residents of Pune commemorated their ancestors, but also Hollywood seems to have gone beyond the battles and triumphs of the white man to bring to the silver screen this victory. A Hollywood producer along with a leading Marathi producer have promised to sketch it out for the world to see.

The seeds of this Hollywood film titled The Invader - to be produced by Peter Rawley of Ransom fame and Ajey Jhankar, leading Marathi film producer of Lekru fame - were sown by some Pune citizens who found that the battle was a classic example of a brilliant Indian victory over the colonialists. They got together under the umbrella of the Express Nagarik Wadgaon Vijaystambh Pratishthan, spearheaded by The Indian
Express, Pune, in 1996.

Piqued at the renovation work started on the Koregaon pillar - a victory memorial of the British and represented the defeat of the Indians - on the outskirts of Pune in 1996 by the Bombay Engineering Group (BEG), the trustees of this Pratishthan started the installation of the Wadgaon battle victory pillar to set the region's history in right order.

Some of the eminent trustees include Maj Gen V.V. Bhide (retd), director-general of Border Road Organisation, renowned industrialist Arun Firodia' chairman and managing director of Kinetic group, S.M. Garge, noted historian of Maharashtra, S. B. Mujumdar, founder-director of Symbiosis, Lt-Gen Y.D. Sahasrabuddhe (retd), former director-general of the Army Service Corps, Lt-Gen Ashok Joshi (retd), first professor of University of Pune's Chhatrapati Shivaji chair and Dr-Col. Anil Athale (retd), military historian and senior editor, Express Initiatives, Pune, and civic activists, Shashikant Mehendale and Chandmal Parmar.

States Arun Firodia, "Our history has always been projecting Indian defeats and has been ignoring our various victories. For example, at around the same time when Mohammed Ghazni was plundering north-west India, the Cholas of the South had brought the entire South East under them, but this is never highlighted. And, sorrowfully, the feeling of a defeatist attitude is being harboured even 50 years after India's Independence. Thus, the Wadgaon victory pillar signifies that Indians, being the best professionals, can compete in today's cutthroat and competitive world and should get rid of their inferiority complex."

Says Dr-Col Anil Athale (retd), who has done in-depth research under the Gen. Palit fellowship from the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi, between 1991-1995 and gathered information from India Office Library and Records, "The Maratha army, by the 1770s, had acquired an all - India character. There were Jats, Rajputs, Sikhs, Muslims and Goans in the army. The chief of the Maratha artillery was Norohna, a Goan. The messengers, and also the persons who shadowed the army as it came from Mumbai to Pune, were mostly from the Mahar community. Therefore, it was a formidable Indian side against the British. And the Battle of Wadgaon is a good example of how we counteracted colonial aggression and should now in this century pick this as an example of Indian confidence to survive and succeed."

The project has two components. One, is the erection of the Victor Pillar in the shape of the Deep-Stambh at Wadgaon Maval along with a life-size bronze statue of Shrimant Mahadji Shinde. And, secondly, the installation of a tableau of five life-size bronze statues depicting the total surrender of the East India Company to Shrimant Mahadji Shinde on January 16, 1779. This is to be erected at a place which will have maximum exposure to citizens, especially the youth.

At the outset, the victory pillar was proposed on the hill of Wadgaon where the surrender took place. The land belongs to Rahuri University, a leading agricultural university in Maharashtra. Although the then Vice-Chancellor was excited about the project, the then Shiv Sena State Minister of Agriculture, Shashikant Sutar, the pro-Vice Chancellor of the shot it down saying that the rocky land vas required for cultivation.

Thereafter, it was proposed to be erected at the popular Rajmachi gardens at Khandala-Lonavla on the Mumbai Pune Highway. However, since Khandala is going to be bypassed by the Mumbai-Pune expressway, it is now propose to be erected in the heart of Pune.

Though the spot for the pillar may have been oscillating a bit, the place the battle holds in the heart of producer Ajey Jhankar is undisputed: "Although I am a literature and history student, I was unaware of the Wadgaon battle until I met the trustees of the pratishthan. I found that it had great ingredients to make it into a dramatic and intelligent film. I'm sure the Battle of Wadgaon, which is not only exemplary in guerrilla warfare but a great example of the tenacious, intelligent and confident Indian mind, would enlighten many a viewer, across the world."

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