The Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray’s decision to support the Maratha reservation is diametrically opposed to the stated policy of the organisation, which had disapproved quota based on caste, community or religion in the past.
Highly placed sources in the Sena revealed, “The decision to support the Maratha reservation is to further consolidate the gains in Marathwada where the party had firmed its feet way back in 1994-95.” A senior functionary of the Kranti Maratha Morcha on condition of anonymity said, “At least in four of the total eight districts of Marathwada, Shiv Sena workers were aggressively vying with NCP and Congress to take the lead in the Maratha morcha.”
In the past, Sena chief late Bal Thackeray had always tooth and nail opposed the reservation based on caste, community or religion. The party was sternly told to remember that there are only two castes : “One rich and other poor.”
Political managers in the Sena admit, “Taking a U-turn on reservation policy was not easy. But we had to adopt pragmatic politics.” At the Dussehra rally held at Shivaji Park, Uddhav (Thackeray) declared his party’s support for the Maratha quota.
The Shiv Sena’s connect with Marathas in Marathwada goes back to 1994-95. The politics of renaming Marathwada University in the name of Dr B R Ambedkar had lead to an ugly communal riots between the dalits and Marathas. The then Congress led by chief minister Sharad Pawar (he was in Congress), took the decision of renaming the Marathwada University after Dr B R Ambedkar to appease the dalits ahead of the assembly elections and also fulfill the commitment made a decade ago.
Bal Thackeray had opposed the decision of renaming the university after Ambedkar. The decision divided the dalits and Marathas across villages leading to violence. In the 1995 state assembly elections, the generation next Marathas, in the age of 18 to 30 completely switched their loyalty from Pawar to Bal Thackeray. The Marathas had opposed the renaming and found in Sena an alternative.
Marathwada University was renamed after Dr B R Ambedkar on January 14, 1994.
In 1999, after NCP was formed parting ways with Congress, Pawar tried to win over the generation next Marathas to his fold in the assembly elections same year. However, it could not entirely succeed as Sena still enjoyed their support.
After 22 years, new generation of Marathas have taken to street with reservation politics which Sena never subscribed.
Sena’s biggest challenge is to get the generation next Marathas to its fold. And it decided to support the reservation based on caste. The youths who were the force to reckon in Maratha rallies have no emotional connect with the 1994 Marathwada renaming politics unlike their elders.
A Sena cabinet minister said, “It is dilemma. As we cannot take the generation next for granted. And if we don’t lend voice to their reservation demand, we would disconnect with both generation next and old guards. It would be a big electoral setback.”