MUMBAI: A 28 year farmer Kakasaheb Shinde committed suicide by jumping off a bridge on the Aurangabad-Pune highway into the Godavari river. Today, Tuesday another farmer also tried to kill himself in a similar fashion but has survived with serious injuries.

Both were part of large scale protests by the Maratha Kranti Morcha demanding reservation for education and government jobs. Shinde’s death has now escalated the situation with the organisation calling for a state wide bandh demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

As news of Shinde’s death spread, protestors torched vehicles in different parts of the state, including Aurangabad. Trains were stopped, tyres burnt, and protests reported from Buldhana, Akola, Parali, Washim amongst other districts. The Manch is now planning to take the protest to Mumbai with the Chief Minister’s pleas for peace and talks going unheard.

Fadnavis had just cancelled a scheduled visit to a temple at Pandharpur town in Solapur district on Ashadhi Ekadashi saying this was because of threats from the Maratha outfits. The Maratha Kranti Morcha protested against this, demanding an apology for what it claimed were false allegations by the CM. However, the cancellation of the puja has had a ripple down impact in the state with local politicians confirming that this has widened the Maratha versus Brahmin not-so-silent feud in the state now.

Maratha’s are a powerful community in Maharashtra, constituting 32 % of the population. The protests for reservation have started in earnest in 2016 and after a hiatus have resumed again. This time with a direct impact on Fadnavis who had to cancel his visit to the temple. OBCs too are threatened by the Maratha assertion and fissures are visible between the two communities. The Dalits have felt the heat as well with the Bhima Koregaon stir, and subsequent arrests, being a case in point.

Although several local leaders are at the help of the Maratha stir being organised by the Maratha Kranti Morcha, itself a conglomeration of organisations like the Sambhaji Brigade, both the Nationalist Congress Party and sections of the BJP are being linked to the protests in Maharashtra. Sharad Pawar, a strong Maratha leader, is said to be tacitly supporting the agitaiton with local NCP leaders seen at the forefront of the protests. Pawar has however, maintained a distance from this agitation although he has supported the demand for reservation.

Interestingly a march was held at Pawar’s constituency Baramati in 2016 where members of his extended family participated. However, his daughter Supriya Sule and his nephew Ajit Pawar were not present at the silent march. Sources said that Pawars silence can be traced to the sizeable non-Maratha vote in Maharashtra with Baramat itself having a large popular of the OBC and Dhangar communities

There have been efforts by organisations such as Maratha Seva Sangh and even the Sambhaji brigade over these two years to bridge the gap between the Marathas and the OBCs, Dalits and Muslims in the state. The protests are targeting Fadnavis, with sections of the BJP also keen to see the Modi-Amit Shah selected CM leave the post. The Maratha BJP members in particular, have been using their influence to keep their lines with their community organisations and the vote bank open. The alleged rape of a Maratha girl at Kopadi has of course, been used to drive a wedge between the communities in the state earlier.

Caste politics is becoming more aggressive, and more complicated as the polls approach with CPI leader B.K.Kango pointing out that the larger politcal parties were “playing with fire” and might find themselves unable to control the forces they were unleashing. He insisted these were diversionary tactics to move away from the real economic issues including deep agrarian distress.