The appeal by Maratha community leaders to observe a peaceful bandh came to a cropper on Thursday as protests turned violent in many parts of Maharashtra, with incidents of arson, roadblocks, and clashes with police being reported. Though the shutdown by Maratha outfits, to press forward their demand for 16 per cent reservation in government jobs, got off to a peaceful start in the morning, reports of vandalism in Pune and clashes in Aurangabad began to trickle in as the day progressed. A dozen public and private vehicles were damaged in other parts of the state.
While the Maratha Kranti Morcha held a sit-in protest outside the office of the Mumbai Suburban Collector in Bandra (East), the Sakal Maratha Samaj carried out the bandh in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra. However, only token protests were held in Navi Mumbai and Thane.
In Mumbai too, protests were peaceful and suburban train services on the Western Railway, Central Railway and Metro Railway operated normally. Shiv Sena legislator Prakash Ambedkar attempted to enter the Maharashtra legislature building but was prevented by the security. The agitated MLA then sat on a dharna opposite the gates.
In Aurangabad, two groups of protesters clashed when someone allegedly shouted slogans against Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray at Kranti Chowk. Sena district chief Ambadas Danve objected to the slogans, following which members of both the sides engaged in a scuffle.
“One person was injured in the incident but we brought the situation under control. We separated the two groups and dispersed their members,” a police official said. A group of activists went to the Aurangabad office of the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) and indulged in stone-pelting at several companies. Police responded by firing in the air.
Meanwhile, agitators vandalised the Pune district collector’s office and resorted to stone pelting, damaging some light bulbs in the premises. A batch of protesters held a sit-in outside the residence of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar in Baramati tehsil of Pune and was joined by his nephew Ajit Pawar in support of their demands.
Sensing that matters might veer out of control, Superintendent of Police Sandip Patil suspended Internet services in seven rural tehsils of Pune district to prevent rumour-mongering. Protesters halted buses and other vehicles on roads in Latur, Jalna, Solapur and Buldhana districts.
The Madha-Shetfal road, which connects to National Highway number 9 (Pune-Hyderabad) in Solapur district, was also blocked by the protesters, leading to massive snarls. Some agitators burnt tyres on roads in Jalna and Ahmednagar districts, a police official said.
As a precaution, the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corp (MSRTC) suspended its services in most parts of the state to avoid being targeted by activists. Lakhs of travellers in rural areas were badly hit. There were roadblocks also on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, Mumbai-Goa Highway, Mumbai-Nashik Highway and the old Mumbai-Pune Highway which remained practically traffic-free due to the shutdown.
The Umri railway station was attacked and damaged, leading to delays and cancellations of several long-distance trains on various routes. In Sindhudurg district, Marathas staged a ‘jail-bharo’ agitation in all sub-districts. They were later let off.
Though exempt from the shutdown, many schools and colleges in the state remained shut as students and teachers could not reach on time owing to the agitation. The shutdown was called off at 5 pm in some places by singing the National Anthem.