September 24, 2016 2:32:15 am
Lakhs of Marathas from hundreds of villages across the district converged at a rally here on Friday, in what is being seen as the biggest show of strength by the community that recently organised a string of protests across the state. They were demanding that the perpetrators of the rape and murder of a Maratha girl at Kopardi village in the district be hanged.
Friday’s rally also marked an attempt by two senior leaders of the Congress — Opposition leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and former minister Balasaheb Thorat, who are seen as rivals — to display their strength and support base. Vikhe-Patil is from Ahmednagar. Thorat comes from Sangamner taluka in the same district, which is 80 km from Kopardi where the 14-year-old girl was raped and murdered by three youths on July 13.
The rally here was on the lines of the two dozen Maratha rallies in the last few weeks under the banner of Kranti Maratha Morcha, marked by demands for justice for the gangrape-murder besides reservation for Marathas and repeal of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and building of the Chhatrapati Shivaji memorial in Arabian Sea.
One estimate put the crowd size at nearly 10 lakh.
Bhawna Kasar, a Dharewadi resident, walked 14 km to attend the rally. Another resident Shobha Autani said, “We are seeking justice in the Kopardi case. We are also fighting for our rights.”
As in all these rallies, no political leader was allowed centrestage. But it was evident that Vikhe-Patil played a significant role in providing the logistics and support.
In Sangamner taluka, from where several lakhs came to the rally, it was Thorat who provided the support to mobilise people. From providing food to transport, everything was meticulously planned.
Thousands of students from Amrut Vahini, a college owned by Thorat, were reportedly provided transport to attend the protest. Pooja Gunjan, a civil engineer, said, “Our college provided us transport to attend the rally. But it was all voluntary.”
A Kranti Maratha Morcha office-bearer said, “District politicians are vying with each other to show their rallies are bigger than the rest. What needs to be understood is that people at the grassroots have joined to fight for their rights. Those providing logistics are doing so to express solidarity with the movement.”
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