The top leadership of the Congress in the state and the Centre find themselves in a Catch 22 situation, unable to take a stand on rallies organised by the Maratha community in Maharashtra.
Maratha organisations have decided to hold a series of rallies across Maharashtra at regular intervals to mobilise the community. Although the theme is protest against the Kopardi rape case, the larger purpose is to show the strength of the community. Four rallies have already taken place and many are planned this month.
Highly placed sources in the AICC revealed, “Frankly speaking we are in a dilemma. If we pro-actively support the Maratha rallies, there is a fear it would lead to backlash from the Dalits and other backward communities.”
Dalits (10.8 per cent), and OBCs (26 percent) constitute 36.8 per cent of the voters. Whereas the Maratha votebank is 33 per cent. Out of the 288 assembly seats in Maharashtra, there are at least 70 seats dominated by the Maratha community. In the remaining 118 seats, non-Maratha communities including Dalits/ OBCs/Muslims and others are significant.
The Congress believes, “Unlike NCP which can play the ‘Maratha card’ we (Congress) cannot afford to lose our traditional ‘Dalit’ vote base in Maharashtra. The party fears any move to antagonise the Dalits in Maharashtra can have an adverse impact on the forthcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh with a sizeable Dalit population.
The AICC has sought a detailed report from the Maharashtra Congress on the ongoing Maratha community rallies and its political ramifications in Maharashtra.
However, several Congress leaders with a stronghold on cooperative sectors and banks are finding it difficult not to express solidarity with the Maratha rallies. A former Congress minister from western Maharashtra said, “The biggest challenge is to strike a balance between Marathas and Dalits to retain our support base in our constituencies.” Any mistake would cost the party, which was reduced to 42 seats in the 2014 assembly elections, he said.
MPCC chief Ashok Chavan, leader of opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, senior leaders Narayan Rane and Sushil Kumar Shinde are likely to convene a meeting to deliberate on the outcome of Maratha rallies.
A senior Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee leader said, “At the district levels, local leaders have taken the decision to express solidarity with the Maratha rallies. At least in three rallies, the district and taluka level local leaders have taken part.” One of the leaders who participated said, “Ahead of local bodies elections, we cannot distance ourselves from any rallies which have public support.”
Although the Maratha rallies are to protest the Kopardi rape incident, the rallies have a larger purpose to consolidate the community to display their political and economic power.
Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said, “The rallies are to protest against the Kopardi incident. The government should take note of the unrest and address the problem.”
A section within the Congress believes that a comprehensive policy should be evolved on how to tackle the Maratha unrest. It is felt that the safe way is to support reservation for Marathas in education and employment, which was already their stated position in 2009 and 2014 elections.