Two years after the Maratha community took to streets across Maharashtra holding silent marches and demanding quota in jobs, the community, which forms 33 per cent of the state’s population, has now turned aggressive. Convinced that it has to show its strength, the Maratha community is getting ready to force its way through.
The aim is to force the government to act decisively on its long-pending demands. “Now or never,” seems to be the mantra. For the last four-five days, Maharashtra is witnessing sporadic incidents of violence like torching of buses, tyres and rasta rokos mainly in Marathwada, western Maharashtra and Konkan regions. Activists under the umbrella of the Maratha Kranti Morcha are holding sit-in agitations in some districts like Beed and Nashik. One of the protesters on Monday took “jal samadhi” in Godavari river in Aurangabad.
The protesters had threatened to gherao Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in Pandharpur and stop him from performing puja on Ashadi Ekadashi. However, Fadnavis stayed away from Pandharpur and instead worshipped the deity at his residence. The protesters have now vowed to gherao ‘Varsha’, the official residence of the chief minister in Mumbai, press for his resignation, and seek finality to their demands.
Maratha leaders disagree with the suggestion that the timing of their fresh agitation is linked to next year’s general elections. Instead, they point out, the immediate trigger for their protest is the announcement by Fadnavis in the state Assembly on July 20 that his government would provide 16 per cent reservation in government jobs to the Maratha community.
The CM had said a recruitment drive would be taken up once Maratha reservation gets constitutional and legal sanction. “There would be no injustice meted out to the Maratha community,” he had said. But Maratha leaders say they want the government to give them OBC status and not reservation because any reservation, beyond the existing 50 per cent, would be difficult to implement. On the other hand, if the Marathas are granted OBC status, they would qualify for the existing OBC quotas.
“The Maharashtra government can easily convene a special session of the state legislature and take a final decision according OBC status to the community. But it does not have the political will power to do. It wants to carry on with its game of playing with the sentiments of the Maratha community and wreck the lives of thousands of youths,” said Manoj Akhare, one of the coordinators of Maratha Kranti Morcha, the umbrella body leading the agitation.
While the government says the Backward Class Commission was already considering the proposal to accord OBC status to Marathas, and its work was going on, the community claims that the government need not wait for the commission to finalise its report. “We do not know when the commission will complete its work. This means the government will not be able to take the decision as in a few months’ time the general elections will be upon us. The government will get a chance to play votebank politics by promising quota for the community during election campaigning,” the community leaders say.
Maruti Bhapkar, one of the Maratha leaders, said the Backward Commission was currently going around the state to find out the social and economic status of Marathas. “However, the commission is going very slow in its job which has sparked apprehension that our demand will remain pending again,” he said. Bhapkar said the government did not have any right to declare reservation. “It has to be done by the Backward Class Commission, the High Court and the government,” he said.
“We know there is a cap on the reservation to be given by a state government. The Constitution mandates that there should be an upper limit of 50 per cent on reservation. But states like Tamil Nadu have enacted new laws and given 69 per cent reservation. Therefore, everything is possible. But our priority, as of now, is to get OBC status,” said Santosh Shinde, president of Sambhaji Brigade, the more aggressive face of the Maratha Kranti Morcha.
Another reason why the community is dissatisfied with Fadnavis is that it believes he is shirking responsibility. “During our meetings, he sends ministers who have no clue what is going on or have little information. We want him to come up front,” Maratha leaders say.
The government, on the other hand, does not know who in the Maratha leadership to talk to. There is no single leadership in the community. The Maratha Kranti Morcha is an umbrella organisation of all Maratha organisations spread across the state. The leaders of various groups belong to different political parties — BJP, Congress, Shiv Sena and NCP — and there is a lot of groupism and disagreements.
Bhapkar said the lack of clear leadership was a shortcoming. “Each one takes his own decision, leading to confusion among the community. This is our biggest shortcoming which the community is not able to address,” he said. Bhapkar says the likes of (former Supreme Court judge) Justice P B Sawant, Justice B G Kolse-Patil, Pravin Gaikwad, Budhajirao Mulik, Sadanand More and Vishal Kadam should come together and form a committee which will represent the community in talks with the government. “The agitation will succeed if the committee is formed and its decision is accepted by the community,” he believes.