November 7, 2016 1:45:42 am
Thousands of bikers rode through the city Sunday under the banner of the Kranti Maratha Morcha, testing their political might in Mumbai and sending out a message that the community’s agitation was not over. The rally, which began from K J Somaiya college in Vidyavihar and ended at Lalbaug via the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), highlighted the demand of reservation for Marathas in education and employment.
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“The rally is neither against the government nor a consolidation in favour of the opposition. Our objective is to fight for our community’s right. The Maratha agitation’s biggest achievement is unity without any established political leader,” said Shashikant Pawar, a senior functionary. Though the bike rally was a departure from the street marches held across 35 districts of the state so far, the demands presented were the same, leading with reservation for the Maratha community. Dressed in black and wearing ribbons to mark their protest, the bikers rode through Sion, Dadar, Parel and Byculla, holding saffron flags.
Since its first rally in August, the Marathas have been seeking fulfillment of five main demands — stringent punishment for the accused in the Kopardi gangrape-murder case, reservation for Marathas, changes in the SC/ST atrocities Act, implementation of the Swaminathan report and completion of the Shivaji statue to be installed in the Arabian Sea. Virendra Pawar, one of the protesters, said, “This rally is only for janajagruti (creating awareness). However, if the government doesn’t respond soon, we will hold a major rally in December that will bring Mumbai to a halt.”
Like all previous rallies, the Mumbai event also saw massive participation of women. Suvarna Pawar, a participant, said, “Women have come in large numbers as one of our demands concerns injustice against women. We hope the chief minister will personally look into our demands for reservation. Don’t our children have the right to education? Don’t they deserve to be doctors or engineers? Today, it is a silent protest, but we cannot say what will happen the next time.”
A police officer pegged the number of bikers at 80,000. “When the rally began at Somaiya grounds, there were only 12,000 protesters. But as they neared Parel and Dadar, more joined in, taking the total number to around 80,000 by the time they reached CST.” Protest leaders said the community would follow this rally with an exhibition at Shivaji Park, where they would express their demands through art. The date for the exhibition has not yet been decided. In the districts that have already seen protests,100 community members will visit the collector concerned every day to follow up on their demands. If the demands are still not met, another rally will be held in Mumbai, a community leader said.
Govt for dialogue
The state Sunday reiterated its appeal to the Kranti Maratha Morcha to come forward for discussions on their demands. The government also emphasised that all five demands raised by the community were already being pursued and that there was no conflict or difference of views. In a statement, Education Minister Vinod Tawde said, “We urge the KMM to delegate a team to come and have a dialogue with the government. The chief minister has already expressed willingness to consider all the demands…”
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