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Angry with both fronts, Maratha votes split down middle

Hurt by agrarian distress, non-implementation of reservation, youth turn away from BJP-Sena.

Ganesh Raut, Ganesh Raut BJP, Ganesh Raut Shiv Sena Lok Sabha elections, elections 2019, 2019 elections Maharashtra, maharashtra elections, BJP maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, Indian Express, election news, latest election news, indian express Maratha activist Ganesh Raut faces several cases. (Express photo: Amit Chakravarty)

Ganesh Raut, 31, a Shiv Sainik from Aurangabad’s Gangapur taluka, is among a few hundred Maratha youth served notices earlier this week, asking them to be present in court. On July 23, last year, when violence erupted in Aurangabad, Pune and other parts of the state after Maratha youth Kakasaheb Shinde committed suicide in Kaygaon village by jumping into the Godavari, Raut was right alongside Shinde. He was one of the hundreds charged for rioting that day.

As the Lok Sabha elections draw closer, Raut is furious with the BJP-Shiv Sena government on two counts. “This government promised to withdraw cases registered against Maratha protesters but failed to do so. As for the decision granting reservation in jobs and educational institutions, where is the implementation?”

Having fought for reservation since 2003 and facing multiple cases of rioting and disruption of peace, Raut tried to explain the anger and confusion among Marathas. “The day Kakasaheb died, I had specifically told the police posted there to treat the matter with seriousness — we were seeking Jal Samadhi in the Godavari, not a nallah. Yet, there was neither a fishing boat nor a fire brigade van there when Kakasaheb jumped,” he said, blaming the state government and the police for his friend’s “martyrdom”.

The anger Maratha youth felt across the state that day is now resurfacing on account of the latest notices, he said. Officials said the notices are actually in the nature of preventive action ahead of elections, issued to those who have been mentioned in various cases in recent months as having been a challenge to law and order. Notices had also been issued to those involved in incidents of violence after the Bhima Koregaon attacks.

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Nevertheless, Raut and other Maratha protesters are deeply offended. Dozens who received the notices are BJP-Sena workers, their anger fanning sparks against Sena-BJP candidates.

While the Maratha Kranti Morcha, which spearheaded the 58 silent marches of lakhs of Marathas in 2016-17, is yet to declare support for any party, the anger within the community against the ruling combine is unmistakable.

Early March, following a meeting in Mumbai, some sections of the Morcha had threatened to campaign in Maharashtra against the Sena-BJP government. This week in Parbhani, where there are over 35 per cent Maratha voters, office-bearers of the Sambhaji Brigade — another organisation that has championed the cause of the community — are holding meetings with NCP candidate Rajesh Vitekar. Another outfit, Maratha Kranti Sena, has fielded a handful of candidates across the state, planning to mobilise Maratha voters’ support against the government.

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The eight districts and eight Lok Sabha constituencies of Marathwada are witnessing cyclical drought and consequent impoverishment of the farmers on the one hand, and on the other, a stalled development of industry in the much-vaunted hubs of the Delhi Mumbai-Industrial corridor, the Shendra-Bidkin clusters on the fringes of Aurangabad.

Columnist and writer Ganesh Mohite of Aurangabad pointed out that common Marathas had demanded reservation owing to continuing rural distress. “The largely agrarian community was slowly finding itself unable to afford children’s education or find jobs, more so in the backward Marathwada region. But after the silent morchas ended, the Maratha leadership has been co-opted into the BJP, because leaders among the community only want to retain power,” he said.

For example, Narayan Rane, whose son Nitesh was among those who grew popular among young Marathas at one point, joined the BJP later. Another major Maratha leader, Praveen Gaikwad, joined the Congress on Saturday. “The various outfits that were part of the Maratha Kranti Morcha will all typically support one or other candidate, so the community never unitedly goes against the government,” said Mohite, who still believes that 50 to 60 per cent of Marathas will vote against the Sena-BJP this time. “The reservation for Marathas in its current format will eventually be thrown out by the courts, and many people can see that.”

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At the same time, any fracturing of Maratha votes is unlikely to be an en bloc support for the Congress-NCP, said community leaders.

Raut said that young Marathas are “confused” who to vote for. “While the Congress-NCP accuses the Sena-BJP of communalism and caste politics, how many Mali or Dhangar candidates have they given tickets to? The Congress-NCP is casteist too,” he added.

Curiously, as a Narendra Modi fan, his own vote is for “Modi at the Centre”, he said, explaining that this will be an inevitable choice for many notwithstanding their outrage at the government’s slow response on drought and agrarian distress and despite the lack of confidence in many candidates of the Sena-BJP.

First published on: 03-04-2019 at 02:00:52 am
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