Chhaya Ramakrishna Atkare (35), a resident of Solapur, believes reservation for Maratha community will help her tide over the financial crisis that is threatening the education of her son Prafulla who has taken admission to a private college for industrial training. The poor Maratha mill worker has paid Rs 30,000 for the admission. The private college owned by a rich Maratha leader has asked for Rs 30,000 more.
Satyabhama Mulak is angry as her son Amar has been asked to pay Rs 90,000 for admission to an engineering college. The family, which owns 2 acres of land, finds it hard to meet the high cost of education in a private college and face the competition at the same time from reserved category candidates (Dalits/OBCs) to get a seat in government colleges.
As the Maratha rallies gain momentum across the state, the divide between the haves and have-nots within the community has come to the surface. After every rally in Latur, Nanded and Solapur, women from rural and urban Maharashtra expressed anger against the established Maratha leaders who have failed to address their concerns in the field of education and employment. The Marathas constitute 33 per cent of the population and almost two-thirds live in rural Maharashtra. Almost 70 per cent of this population is engaged in agriculture.
The middle class and the poor among the community are unanimous in their feeling of being “let down by established Maratha leaders” who are education barons, own cooperative banks, dairy cooperatives and sugar cooperatives.
At the grassroots, the message is loud and clear: there are only a handful of Maratha families that have wielded socio-economic and political control for the last six decades. In spite of massive education network, there is not a single college owned by these education barons where meritorious students from the poor in the community have received financial concessions.
“A report compiled on the list of established Maratha families says only 159 Maratha families have run the state for the last six decades,” said a member of the Kranti Maratha Morcha.
Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh chief Prakash Ambedkar said the rallies were a battle between the rich and established Marathas versus the poor Marathas.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, Chhaya said, “When it comes to seeking our votes, they display the caste card. But when it comes to helping our children on merit, they show no charity. Time has come to re-look and also stand with only those who will secure our children’s future.”
Even as the community cutting across sub-castes and class has united to demand reservation in education and employment, the undercurrents indicated the Maratha youth are looking for an alternative leadership.
As Kashmira Tatke, a college student, put it, “If you notice our rallies, there is not a single established Maratha leader on the stage. Whether it is women or youth, we have only one issue — reservation for Marathas.”
Tatke is part of the core committee that is organising the rallies under the banner of Kranti Maratha Morcha.
However, senior leaders from the Congress-NCP have described the rallies as an outcome of anger against the BJP government. Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil said, “The cooperative movement has played a significant role in addressing the concerns of the farmers and rural people.” Stating that there are several examples of charitable work own district, he said, “We have great bond between farmers and our constituents.”
A senior NCP leader from Western Maharashtra, who did not wish to be named, said, “We can understand the poor Marathas’ anger. The agriculture crisis due to drought and growing aspirations are making life difficult. But the cooperative sector’s role in addressing community welfare cannot be undermined. There are thousands of registered cooperative societies accommodating lakh of members from our community in various institutions across sugar mills, district co-op banks, cooperative dairy, private colleges, schools, hospitals etc.”
Another Congress leader said, “The problem is established leaders had started treating the cooperative sector as private limited company instead of public trust in last three decades. As a result, the generation next Marathas have started raising questions today.” He added, “The reforms in Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank exposed massive corruption. The misuse of funds by several leaders of our own Congress-NCP had pushed the bank to debt. But it turned into profit when we appointed new administrator. So, our community’s concern about farmers with small land holding not getting loans from district cooperative bank or not getting admission in private colleges owned by our colleagues need a re-look.”
A Kranti Maratha Morcha volunteer said the mammoth public support to the rallies was an alarm bell for the established Maratha leaders in Congress-NCP who dominated the community vote bank. He said, “At this moment, these rallies are leaderless.” There is, however, fierce competition within as most prominent leaders in their respective districts are trying to take the credit. To some extent, their involvement in financial and logistical support is working to mobilise the masses.
“The consolidation of Maratha community is being exploited by NCP to reconnect to the masses to reaffirm its identity in the state. Similar is the approach of Congress leaders,” said another volunteer who did not with to be named.