The much-hyped Maratha rally in Nagpur Wednesday saw low turnout, as predicted by political observers and some leaders of the Maratha community. The rally was organised as part of the ongoing agitation by the Marathas for job reservation, amendment to the SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act and death penalty for the Dalit men who allegedly gang raped and murdered a minor girl at Kopardi, Ahmednagar, last July.
When the agitation began four months ago, it drew mammoth crowds. But it seems to have lost momentum now. Around one lakh people turned up for the Nagpur rally, a lot fewer than expected. Some of the earlier rallies had drawn up to 20 lakh people.
"Since Nagpur isn't very convenient to travel to form western Maharashtra, we decided not to invite community members from that part for the rally as also women," said Kishor Shitole, one of the organisers, seeking to explain the low turnout.
A delegation of Maratha leaders later met Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who was in Nagpur for the ongoing winter session of the assembly in the city, for the first time since the agitation began. They had earlier only given memoranda of demands to top officials in whichever city the rally was organised.
"It was a satisfactory meeting with the CM. He patiently listened to our demands and assured to fulfil them. He also suggested the formation of a committee that will coordinate with the CMO on the issue and and meet monthly be review the progress," Shitole said.
According to Shitole, if the government "takes positive steps to fulfil our demands", the proposed rally in Mumbai can be cancelled. "The affidavit filed by the government in the Bombay High Court is a positive step and we appreciate the effort put in by the CM as well as researchers at the Gokhale Institute. They have done a commendable job. Now we will keenly watch what happens at the high court during next hearing," he said.
On the demand to amend the SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act, Shitole said the government should initiate a dialogue with the Dalit community. "We are not against the Act and never demanded that it be scrapped. We only want to prevent its misuse. For this, some amendments must be done that won't harm the core of the Act," he said.
Another key organiser of the agitation, Bhaiya Patil, said "several burning issues pertaining to farmers still loom large and need immediate attention". "The majority of the Maratha community is dependent on agriculture. And they are facing several problems such as shortage of farm labourers and the financial crisis due to falling prices for agricultural produce. Agricultural loan waiver is the only way to bring immediate relief to these distressed farmers," he added.
The Martha rally, meanwhile, was a matter of discussion in the assembly, with Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council, Dhananjay Munde, moving an adjournment motion to protest "inaction of the state government over Maratha issues". Deputy Speaker Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar, however, rejected the motion.
Earlier, during a discussion on the issue of Maratha reservation, Congress MLC Narendra Patil blamed "Maratha leaders" for the "current condition of the community". "The Maratha leaders used the community only for votes and did not do anything for its development. The community must get 24% reservation," he said.