He was one of the leading Maratha voices demanding reservation for the community and took the initiative to organise Maratha Kranti Morchas across Maharashtra. On Sunday morning, former MLC Vinayak Mete, 59, was on his way to Mumbai to meet Chief Minister Eknath Shinde to discuss issues concerning the community when he died in a road accident on the Mumbai-Pune expressway.
Mete was from Rajegaon village in Beed district’s Kej tehsil and belonged to a family that did not have any background in politics. He became a leader of the Maratha Mahasangh and entered the state legislative council for the first time in 1995 after the Mahasangh extended support to the then Shiv Sena-BJP government. He spent a total of five terms in the council.
He formed the Maharashtra Lok Vikas Party in 1996-’97 and changed its name to the Shiv Sangram Sanghatana around 1999. Soon afterwards, Mete developed links with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and joined the party, which appointed him its vice president and made him MLC twice. In 2008, Mete was at the centre of a storm after Shiv Sangram workers attacked the house of then Loksatta editor Kumar Ketkar over an editorial criticising the plans to build a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji in the Arabian Sea.
In 2014, he quit the NCP and backed the BJP. The BJP ensured that the Shiv Sangram Sangathana leader completed his third term as a legislator in the council and made him MLC for the fourth time as well. Mete helped the BJP gain a toehold in the Maratha community.
Mete was made the president of the Shivaji memorial. In October 2018, tragedy struck when a boat capsized while ferrying members of the Shiv Sangram Sanghatana and government officials to the site of the memorial under construction. One worker of Mete’s organisation died.
Early last year, Mete came out against the Maha Vikas Aghadi government’s move to accommodate Marathas under the Economically Weaker Section (EWS). He asked the Uddhav Thackeray government to restore Maratha quota under the Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC), raising apprehensions that once the EWS was enforced Marathas will never make it to the SEBC where benefits are higher in terms of reservation in education and government jobs. After the Supreme Court struck in May 2021 struck down a Maharashtra law granting reservation to the Maratha community in admissions and government jobs in the state, Mete warned of a statewide protest.
Following the Maratha leader’s death, Shinde ordered an inquiry amid allegations that medical aid did not reach him for more than one hour after the accident. Senior politicians, including the chief minister, Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis, Sharad Pawar, and Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly Ajit Pawar, visited the MGM hospital Panvel where Mete was admitted.
Maharashtra minister and former state BJP president Chandrakant Patil said Mete’s death was shocking. “He was genuinely following up the issue of Maratha reservation. It is a huge loss for us and the Maratha community,” Patil said.
Congress leader and former chairman of a Maharashtra sub-committee on Maratha reservation Ashok Chavan said, “It is unfortunate to lose a leader like Mete. Despite we being in different political parties, Mete and I were almost on the same page over the issue of Maratha reservation in the state.”
Sharad Pawar expressed grief over the Maratha leader’s death while Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray issued a statement mourning Mete. The former MLC is survived by his wife, a son, and a daughter.