To display their show of strength, the Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in the state have joined hands to effectively counter the consolidation of Marathas across Maharashtra. On October 3, an OBC rally will take place in Nashik, signalling the polarisation on the lines of caste. The decision reflects the resentment within the OBCs and Dalits following the upper caste Maratha community’s growing assertion through its silent rallies under way across the state.
Maharashtra Malli Samaj Mahasangh (MSMM) president Anil Mahajan said, “The silent OBC rally will not have any leader. Every individual participating in the rally across regions and sub-backward castes will unite. It will be a collective leadership of OBCs.”
A senior OBC activist from Vidarbha said, “Initially, OBCs and Dalits had decided not to hold counter rallies fearing it would escalate the caste conflict with Marathas. What made them change the decision was the Kranti Maratha Morcha’s demand for reservation under the OBC category.”
In Maharashtra, 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 total reservation across SC/ST/OBCs and nomadic tribes and special economically backward accounts for 51 per cent.
Mahajan said, “At Nashik rally, we will demand that the Marathas should not be included in the existing OBC category. We want our 27 per cent quota to remain intact. The OBCs are not against Maratha reservation provided the government gives them separate quota.”
While silent rallies by the Maratha community have elicited some promises and assurances from political leaders, Dalits have already started staging demonstrations in the districts of Marathwada to warn that they would not like any tampering with the reservation norms or any amendment to the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, as demanded by the Marathas.
The OBC mobilisation has already begun across dominant constituencies such as Dhule, Nandurbar, Jalgaon, Akola, Buldhana, Yavatmal, Beed, Parbhani, Jalna, Hingoli, Solapur, Pune and Mumbai.
More than 3,500 vehicles have been deployed to ferry the people to the Nashik rally venue by the organisers. Individuals and groups have also organised food and arranged other logistics, complete with 20 medical vans and a team of 50 doctors.
Though the exact amount to be spent on the rally would be calculated later, an MMSM member said, “We have already collected Rs 40 lakh. But every OBC individual is contributing in different ways by arranging transport, food, lodging etc.”
A sizeable number of Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) supporters have extended their solidarity to the organisers. Sources in the BBM said since it was not under any political banner, BBM leader Prakash Ambedkar might not object to the individuals’ decision to participate in the OBC rally. However, Prakash, grandson of late B R Ambedkar, has been appealing to OBCs and Dalits not to get provoked by Maratha rallies.
Mahajan said, “We are not going to raise any anti-Maratha slogan at the rally. Our demand will be to not include Marathas under OBC category. Our OBC rally is not against the state government. We will also urge the government to provide bail to our leader Chhagan Bhujbal, an OBC leader undergoing treatment in a Mumbai hospital.” Senior NCP leader Bhujbal was arrested following charges of corruption.
Sensing the OBC mobilisation, political leaders from mainstream parties are trying to extend their support. Not surprisingly, NCP leader Ajit Pawar appealed to party workers to attend the Nashik rally. Bhujbal’s MLA son Pankaj has also appealed to people to participate in the rally to show support to his father.
Mahajan, however, warned, “The NCP leaders should not interfere with out OBC rally.”
According to Latur-based Dalit activist Keshav Kamble, “Although Marathas claim it to be silent rallies, the motive is to show their strength. As a result, it automatically leads Dalits/OBCs to unite. Gradually, it is veering towards 33 per cent Marathas versus 67 per cent non-Marathas in rural Maharashtra.”