Maratha Uprising Engulfs Maharashtra: OBCs, Muslims, Dalits to Take to the Streets Too
MUMBAI: Maharashtra is likely to be engulfed by widespread agitations with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis totally out of his depth with the escalating protests.
The Marathas have been on the streets for several days, with the protests spreading across the state. 32% of the state’s population is on the march and impervious to the CM’s requests. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi focusing on the Uri aftermath, and BJP chief Amit Shah preoccupied with Uttar Pradesh, Fadnavis finds himself alone, without the mentors who had placed him in the hot seat. The OBCs---27%-- have announced a big rally at Nasik on October 3.
Political circles are abuzz with speculation that old fox and Nationalist Congress party leader Sharad Pawar is behind the Maratha Kranti Manch spearheading the protests, as he along with the local Congress and disguntled elements from the BJP wants Fadnavis to be replaced. As sources said, “if the Patels could get rid of Anandiben in Gujarat, surely the Marathas have the power in Maharashtra to change the CM here as well.”
Pawar placed himself in the eye of a storm with a statement that the Scheduled Castes Act should be removed. He then went on to clarify that he just wanted it to be amended. The Leader of the Opposition in Maharashtra, the BJP state chief and other well known leaders have joined the Maratha demonstrations. Pawar, and several others in the BJP, is reported to be favouring BJP Minister Nitin Gadkari, who has considerable support in all politcal parties in Maharashtra and is reported to be keen to make the shift from New Delhi to Mumbai. Gadkari has been eyeing the Maharashtra CM seat for a while. However, he is seen as too independent and not lightweight enough by the BJP top brass to be placed at the head of a powerful state like Maharashtra, and hence to choice fell on the relatively unknown Fadnavis.
The Marathas protests began following the rape and murder of a 15 year old girl but now the demand for justice has been added to by the demand for reservations. Fadnavis who has not been able to intervene effectively, with the protests growing by the day, now finds that his emissaries are finding no takers in the Manch.
Dalits who had initially come out in support for the Marathas, to join the protests for justice, started feeling worried and threatened as the protests gathered intensity and have now moved away from these rallies. Fearing for their safety, and after Pawar’s statement for their rights under the law, the Dalit organisations are planning to hold a massive rally in the state. This is to ensure that the state department does not succumb to the pressure from the Maratha community to withdraw the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Dalit youth met in Aurangabad to work out the details.
The Other Backward Classes, who are 27% of the state population and form the support base for the Shiv Sena as well, are also planning a silent march under the Maharasthra Mali Samaj Mahasangh banner. The OBC’s claim to be supportive of the Marathas demands but unsure of the government, are working to hold the rally to showcase their strength, and thereby ensure that their share of reservations is not compromised.
The Muslims are also now seeking to get back the five per cent reservation, given by the NCP and the Congress earlier and struck down by the Bombay High Court. A rally is on the anvil by this community as well, with a Congress legislator taking the lead amongst others.
Significantly the political parties are spread across the different groups, with members and lawmakers almost evenly divided in extending support to the Maratha’s, OBC’s, Dalits and Muslims according to their respective constituencies. In that while members of almost all political parties marched with the Marathas, others are cutting across political lines to support the other communities preparing to engulf Maharashtra in the resurging politics of reservation.
As legislators rush to embrace the communities representing their specific constituencies, fissures within the ruling coalition at the centre and state are bound to emerge. More so as the caste faultlines tighten, and the politics of reservation divide communities in the state. For instance the Marathas have opposed the state government’s decision to award the Maharasthra Bhushan award to historian Babasaheb Purandare who is a Brahmin. Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar is working to prevent the Dalits from taking out a rally. He told The Citizen that Republican Party leader Ramdas Athawale who is a Minister in the BJP led government at the centre is trying to persuade the Dalits to hold a counter rally. There are many wheels within the wheels in the state now, with Fadnavis emerging as a target for not just the Opposition but many within the BJP as well.