A planned show of strength by Other Backward Castes (OBCs) to counter the consolidation of Marathas turned out to be more of a sign of solidarity for jailed NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal, with protesters seeking his immediate release besides demanding that the percentage of reservation for them in different sectors be retained at the current level.
Over 4 lakh supporters of Bhujbal, who is from Nashik and has been in jail for over six months on charges of corruption, took out a silent march here seeking his release. The silent march was modelled on the series of morchas (protest meetings) organised across the state by the Maratha community seeking reservation in education and employment, and an amendment to the atrocities Act. The OBC rally, however, appeared to lack the kind of discipline or the numbers seen at the Maratha rallies. Though the organisers had claimed that over 10 lakh people would show up on Monday, a steady downpour in Nashik limited the numbers to 4 lakh, according to police estimates. Supporters poured in from across the state in hired vehicles.
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A large contingent of protestors were from Beed, the home district of late Union minister Gopinath Munde. The Munde clan has already come out in support of Bhujbal. Maharashtra Minister for Women and Child Welfare Pankaja Munde was the only BJP leader who had gone to meet Bhujbal when he was admitted to the J J Hospital last month, triggering speculation of OBC consolidation. Bhujbal is from the Mali community, while Munde is from the Vanjari community — both classified as OBC.
Interestingly, the stretch of the rally was lined up with posters of the late Gopinath Munde at strategic locations, with the participants carrying placards with Bhujbal’s photo on them, suggesting that the jailed leader would not have suffered this fate had the former been alive as he had plans to forge an alliance of OBC leaders.
The main demand of the participants was Chaggan Bhujbal’s immediate release claiming he had been arrested on “trumped-up” charges as part of a political conspiracy. The rally wound up after the protestors handed over a memorandum to the state government through Nashik District Collector B Radhakrishanan. “Even when our leader has fully cooperated with all the investigation agencies, the systematic targeting of him smacks of a move to stifle the voice of OBCs, Dalits, minorities and the crores of those who are socially backward. The message that is being sent among India’s backward classes is that the Bhujbal family is being targeted due to jealousy and political reasons,” said the memorandum.
The three-page memorandum lists out several charges against the state government for its action against Bhujbal. Only in the last two lines of the memorandum was there a demand that the reservation for OBCs should be retained at the current level. In Maharashtra, the quota for OBCs is 27 per cent, while that for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is 10.5 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively. The demand for reservation voiced by the Marathas under the banner of Maratha Kranti Morcha has fuelled concern among the OBCs and Dalits.
Organisers of the OBC rally were categorical that it was not a gathering of any community but a show of solidarity for Bhujbal. “We want to make it clear that this morcha is not against any caste or religion. No political party had a role to play in this rally. It is purely a gathering of Bhujbal supporters who are protesting against the injustice meted out to their leader,” said Akhil Bharatiya Samata Parishad (ABSP) leader Dr Kailash Kamod. Apart from NCP leaders Jitendra Awhad and Dhananjay Munde, no senior leader NCP leader was present at the rally.
“Bhujbal saheb has been behind bars for over six months. It is a clear-cut case of political conspiracy. As far as the NCP goes, the party solidly stands behind Chaggan Bhujbal,” said Awhad.
Claiming that the Maharashtra Malli Samaj Mahasangh was the main organiser of the OBC rally, its president Anil Mahajan, however, said, “Sensing the consolidation of OBCs, the NCP has tried to hijack the rally. NCP leaders Dhananjay Munde and Jitendra Awhad tried to take the credit for the morcha in the name of senior ailing leader Chhagan Bhujbal. While the OBC cadre extended support to Bhujbal, we disapprove NCP’s politics.”
The consolidation of OBCs was to strongly convey a message to the government not to accommodate Marathas in the existing 27 per cent (OBC) quota, Mahajan said, adding that the Marathas could be given a separate quota.
According to political observers, the pro-Bhujbal sentiments at the rally can be perceived in many aspects. They said Pankaja Munde’s meeting with Bhujbal in hospital led to fears of an anti-Maratha polarisation, which could go against the NCP in electoral politics. “So, through the Bhujbal family, they have shown their solidarity at the rally. Besides, across party lines, OBCs may have united to support