Amid threats of protests by Maratha community outfits, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday reached out to Opposition BJP despite the acrimony between the parties in recent weeks.
Thackeray dialled his former ally, Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis, to rally the BJP to back the government’s fight for the restoration of the reservations in education and jobs to the Maratha community.
While Fadnavis was in Bihar when the chief minister rang him up, the telephone diplomacy appeared to have worked for Thackeray, with the former extending BJP’s “full cooperation” to the government over the issue.
Following the interim stay granted by the Supreme Court to the reservations extended by the government to the Marathas, the Maratha Kranti Morcha (MKM) – the umbrella organisation formed by community outfits to fight for the reservation demand – and other Maratha outfits have threatened to begin protests across the state from Monday.
The SC’s interim stay was in regard to 12 per cent reservations for the Marathas in education and 13 per cent in jobs extended when a Fadnavis-led BJP-Shiv Sena government was still in power. The matter has now been referred to a larger bench.
The Opposition leaders, including Fadnavis, have earlier blamed the ruling coalition’s “callous” and “insensitive” approach towards the quota issue, a contention strongly contested by Uddhav and his Cabinet.
Striking a conciliatory line, Uddhav, while addressing the state live on social media on Sunday, said that he had telephoned Fadnavis and that the Opposition leader has assured complete cooperation on the next course of government’s action.
In reciprocation of Thackeray’s gesture, Fadnavis said, “Maratha reservation isn’t a subject on which BJP will play politics. We are committed to the reservations for the community. Whatever steps the government takes to ensure the continuity of the quota, the BJP will offer full support.”
Thackeray’s outreach to Fadnavis comes at a time when battle lines between the former allies have been firmly drawn over the Sushant Singh Rajput death case and the Kangana Ranaut episode.
Sources said that this act of telephone diplomacy had the backing of the other two Maha Vikas Aghadi constituencts – Congress and NCP.
On Saturday, senior ministers of the coalition held discussions involving bureaucrats and experts to formulate a strategy on the issue. NCP president Sharad Pawar, whose party derives much of its clout from the Marathas, had also appealed to the community to exercise restraint, while urging the government to consider the Ordinance route for overcoming the SC stay order.
In the 2019 Assembly polls, Sena had bagged the highest vote share among the community, followed by NCP and BJP.
During his live address on Sunday, Thackeray stressed that his government was with the community over the reservation issue and that it will leave no stone unturned to ensure the restoration of the quota at the earliest. Sources said the government was keen to ensure that the issue does not snowball into a major political storm, as it can adversely impact the fate of the ruling coalition.
Between 2016 and 2018, the MKM had garnered mass support on the reservation issue, with the protests even taking a violent turn in the later stage of the campaign, resulting in a spate of suicides.
The MKM has threatened to lead protests yet again from Monday. While symbolic protests by MKM units in Aurangabad, Yavatmal, Latur, Jalna and Parbhani have been carried out since Saturday, the outfit has threatened to intensify street protests from Monday.
“We (Marathas) are terribly upset. There is a rising apprehension that among the youth that we won’t be able to reap the quota benefits. If the issue is not urgently addressed, protests are bound to happen,” said MKM coordinator Rajesh Kondarne.
In a meeting to discuss their future strategy, MKM leaders blamed the ruling coalition for failing to seriously pursue the matter. One of them pointed out that Tamil Nadu, too, had extended reservations beyond the 50 per cent limit, but had managed to avoid a stay from the courts. “Their matter to is being heard by the courts, but there is no interim stay,” he added.
Congress’ Ashok Chavan, who heads the state Cabinet’s ministerial sub-committee on the reservations, assured that the “government is exploring all option for the restoration of the quota”. “The interim stay will be contested by deploying the best of lawyers. The government is committed to the reservations,” he said.
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