Almost as a befitting reply to the success of the Maratha Kranti Morcha, the Dalits, tribals and OBCs have all come together to form the Bahujan Kranti Morcha and are protesting against the demands made by the Marathas.
The Bahujan Kranti Morcha is a conglomeration of Dalits, OBC and Muslims. It is probably for the first time in the history, that these communities have come together on a common agenda.
"This is the indication that these communities will now move away from Congress and NCP and in all possibilities, they might align with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena," veteran journalist and political analyst Ganesh Torsekar said.
What formed the new alliance?
The Maratha Kranti Morcha's silent rallies taken out across Maharashtra over last three months succeeded in creating tremendous pressure on politicians and the state government state.
The Maratha community was agitating for reservation under the Other Backward Class (OBC) category, amendment in the SC the ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 among other demands.
After the massive Bahujan Kranti Morcha rally at Nashik last month, Dalits, tribals, nomadic tribes, OBC, and Muslims have come together and massive rallies are being taken out in various cities in Maharashtra opposing the demand of Maratha community to be included under the OBCs.
The Bahujan Kranti Morcha is now taking out equally huge rallies opposing the amendment in the Atrocities Act tooth and nail. The morcha has also announced that the Dalits and other Bahujan voters will not vote for any candidate who is favouring the amendment in the Atrocities Act. This has made their political line very clear.
All the Maratha leaders have already supported all the demands made by the Maratha Kranti Morcha. Now the decision by the Bahujan Kranti Morcha is bound to affect these leaders in all the elections to be held in future, including the civic elections scheduled in February next year.
"We are not against reservation to any caste. Our only contention is that Marathas should not be included in OBC. This will slash our share of reservation and deserving candidates from OBC communities would be deprived of admissions to colleges and jobs in future," said Prof Shrawan Deore, an OBC activist who is instrumental in mobilising the OBC and Dalits against Maratha Kranti Morcha.
While accepting their all the demands, Dalit leaders too have strongly opposed to the amendment in the Atrocities Act.
"The Act is the biggest protection for the Dalits in the country today. If that is diluted, we will have nowhere to go and no one to look at for help in a crisis. Several cases of Dalit atrocities are going unnoticed. This is serious. We will not tolerate any tampering with the Act," said the president of Republican Party of India (A) Ramdas Athawale.
While the OBC and Dalits stand united on this issue, the Maratha leaders in Maharashtra are bound to face the heat. The decision will badly hit the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), since these parties have maximum Maratha leaders and have a strong mass base among the community.
What started it all
The gang rape and murder of a minor girl at Kopardi in Ahmednagar district three months back sparked the caste debate in the state. Since the victim was Maratha and the accused are Dalits, the incident took a serious turn and resulted in large scale discontent among Maratha community in Maharashtra.
The seriousness of the incident for Maratha community can be gauged from the fact that NCP chief Sharad Pawar, without any provocation, said that the Atrocities Act was being grossly misused and needed amendments.
This statement by Sharad Pawar sparked a state-wide heated debate on the Act and Maratha Kranti Morcha took it up as its prime demand.
Initially, Dalit leaders like Prakash Ambedkar, Ramdas Athawale, Anandraj Ambedkar, Prof Jogendra Kawade appealed their followers not to take out counter rallies. However, the provocative speeches after every Maratha Kranti Morcha rally triggered the anger.
"The Maratha community leaders are talking only about 'the daughters of Jijau'. Do they imply that only their daughters and women are important and Dalit girls and women are only to be exploited?" asks noted Dalit scholar and author Pradnya Pawar.
The rape of a minor girl at Talegaon in Nashik was the proverbial last straw on the camel's back and the Dalits reacted violently to the incident. Several state transport buses were burnt in the agitation that followed the incident last month and continued for a week.
After the incident, Bahujan Kranti Morcha has started organising rallies in support of the Atrocities Act. These rallies too are attracting millions of people from different castes and communities, including the Muslims.
"The Bahujan Kranti Morcha rallies are completely different from the Maratha rallies. We have participation from more than 400 castes unlike Maratha rallies. We have shown our strength during the last Assembly elections. After the previous government announced reservation for the Maratha community under OBC category, we decided not to vote for the Maratha leaders. As a result, the number of Maratha MLAs in the House has gone down by more than 100 and as many OBC MLAs have increased," said Prof Deore.
The participation of Maratha leaders from across parties in the rallies and their support to the demand of the amendment has alienated the Dalits and OBC communities respectively.
Torsekar said this was inevitable since the Dalits and OBC communities in the state were feeling insecure especially after the massive Maratha rallies.
"This is the beginning of the end of traditional Maratha politics. Leaders like Sharad Pawar used Dalits and OBC communities for their benefit. But now the Maratha leaders are pushed to a corner by their own community. They do not have much option now," Torsekar said.
The decision by Bahujan Kranti Morcha not to vote for those leaders who will endorse the Atrocity Act amendment will be yet another nail in the coffin of the Congress and NCP.
"Both these parties have lost their relevance. The Maratha Kranti Morcha rallies followed by Bahujan Kranti Morcha rallies have only endorsed that both the communities are fed up with the politics of Maratha leaders such as Sharad Pawar and his ilk. Marathas have underscored that the politics in the name of Phule-Shahu-Ambedkar will not be accepted any more and the Dalits and OBCs are now preparing to secure their shield under the Atrocities Act. This is a very critical situation for the Congress and NCP and these parties will suffer a major blow in the elections in future, including the civic bodies elections scheduled for February next year," Torsekar said.
History of atrocities against Dalits in Maharashtra
Maharashtra has a darker side of Dalit atrocities and it dates back several decades. There are millions of incidents of Dalit atrocities taking place in some or the other corner of the state.
The major and most remembered cases include the assault on a shepherd in Vasmat Taluka, in Hingoli district, the infamous Dalit massacre at Khairlanji in Nagpur district and the assault on a youth at Kharda in Ahmednagar district.
The Vasmat Taluka incident -
More than two decades ago a shepherd from Kupti village, Narayan Dhule, sold his goats to buy a 14-acre land to settle down. Unable to digest this, the established landlords from the area made sure he paid with his life. Dhule was attacked on his way to the tehsildar's office to complete the formalities for his new land. He was hit on the head with a heavy object first and then his eyes were scooped out while he was still conscious.
The Khairlanji massacre -
Four members of a Dalit family were hacked to death at Khairlanji village in Bhandara near Nagpur. The incident took place on 29 September 2006. Surekha Bhaiyalala Bhotmange and her children Priyanka, Roshan and Sudhir were hacked to death over a land dispute. Surekha and Priyanka were also paraded naked and sexually abused before being hacked to death.
The Kharda case -
A Dalit youth from village Kharda in Ahmednagar district, Nitin Aage, was killed allegedly to his suspected love affair with a Maratha girl. On 1 May 2014 Nitin was dragged out of his class by goons, thrashed and then hung from a tree to make it look like a suicide.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen