While there have been violent protests by members of the Maratha community across the state in the last three weeks, Pimpri-Chinchwad, in comparison, has witnessed muted protests. Unlike other parts of the state, there have been no incidents of violence or torching of buses, and there have been no morchas with thousands of participants in the industrial city.
The reason is not hard to fathom. The Maratha community in Maharashtra is demanding their inclusion in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category, so that they get reservation in jobs and educational institutes. In Pimpri-Chinchwad, Marathas have not raised the demand strongly, probably because many of them are already in the OBC category.
For the past few years, Maratha groups have been trying to procure ‘Maratha-Kunbhi’ certificates, which automatically gives them an ‘OBC category’ status. Based on the Khatri Commission’s report, the state government, in 2004, had included Maratha-Kunbhis in the OBC category, while excluding all other sub-castes.
The certificates also give politicians an opportunity to contest from OBC seats if their open seats become reserved for OBC candidates. There are 35 OBC corporators in the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, majority of whom are Maratha- Kunbhis.
Of the 20 lakh-odd residents of Pimpri-Chinchwad, about three lakh are Marathas. The Maratha community here primarily comprises the ‘gaon-wallas’ or the sons of soil. They are based in suburbs such as Bhosari, Dapodi, Phugewadi, Kasarwadi, Sangvi, Pimple Gurav, Pimple Saudagar, Rahatni, Kalewadi, Wakad, Pimpri, Chinchwad, Kalbhornagar and Chikhli.
The ‘gaon-wallas’ are considered to be among the rich and powerful in Pimpri-Chinchwad. They usually own land and properties in Pimpri-Chinchwad, Maval, Mulshi and Khed areas. Several corporators have represented the community in the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation in the last four decades.
Some of the prominent politicians from Pimpri-Chinchwad have already contested elections from seats reserved for OBC candidates. For instance, Shrirang Barne, the sitting MP, had contested the 2012 PCMC election from Thergaon from an OBC ward. Bhausaheb Bhoir, an NCP leader and a sitting corporator, had contested the 2012 election from Bijlinagar area.
Nitin Kalje, who quit as the mayor of Pimpri-Chinchwad last week, was elected from the Charholi OBC ward. He became mayor a year-and-a-half ago after the post was reserved for OBC candidates by the state government.
Shyam Lande, former opposition leader, won from Kasarwadi-Vallabhnagar OBC ward in the 2017 civic election. Prabhakar Waghere, former deputy mayor, won from Pimprigaon OBC ward in 2012. He is the cousin of NCP’s Pimpri-Chinchwad unit president Sanjog Waghere. Ravi Landge, a relative of slain BJP leader Ankush Landge, won from the OBC ward in Bhosari area in 2017.
Similarly, other ‘gaon-wallahs’ such as Harshal Dhore from Sangvi, Rohit Kate from Dapodi, Vinod Nade from Kalewadi, Shatrughan Kate from Pimple Saudagar, Jitendra Shinde from Bhosari, Seema Phuge from Bhosari, Surekha Gavahane from Bhosari, Macchindra Tapkir from Kalewadi and Sandeep Chinchwade from Chinchwad have contested from OBC wards.
Last month, Maratha leader Maruti Bhapkar had organised a protest during Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s visit to Chinchwad, but only 20 people participated in the agitation. Bhapkar himself has contested civic elections from wards reserved for OBC candidates. “It is true that in Pimpri-Chinchwad, the Maratha community dominated by the ‘gaon-wallas’ is affluent. But this agitation is not for the rich Marathas. It is for the poor Marathas who struggle to get jobs and opportunities in higher education,” he said, adding that the industrial town also had several poor Marathas among its residents.
Bhapkar said in Pimpri-Chinchwad, many members of the Maratha community had gone all out to procure Kunbhi certificates, as it allowed them to contest elections from OBC wards. “There is nothing wrong in that…it is their fundamental right. However, some procured authentic certificates while a few secured fake ones,” he said.
Shiv Sena MP Shrirang Barne said the Marathas in Pimpri-Chinchwad may not have held major protests, but they had lent complete support to those agitating across the state. “It is an agitation meant for the poor Marathas across the state. It is not about Pimpri-Chinchwad,” he said.
Lahoo Landge, a member of Sambhaji Brigade, said, “Protests in Pimpri-Chinchwad have been low-key as Maratha political leaders who have procured Kunbhi certificates, and there are hundreds of them, have stayed away. There are many poor Marathas in the town for whom we are fighting.”