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Maratha Kranti Morcha's silent protests reach Mumbai, state govt rattled

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 21 September 2016, 21:53 IST

The silent protest rallies started in Maharashtra to condemn the gang rape and murder of a minor girl at Kopardi in Ahmednagar district have reached the doorsteps of Mumbai.

The gang rape and murder of the minor girl on 16 July prompted the Maratha community to take to the streets. The community is demanding death penalty for the accused of the crime, amendment in the SC and the ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and the inclusion of Maratha community in Other Backward Class (OBC) for reservation.

The silent rallies started under the banner of Maratha Kranti Morcha on 9 August at Aurangabad and soon spread across the state. Several lakhs of people participate in the rallies, which are completely apolitical.

The organisers of the rally have kept all the political leaders at a bay. Even the Maratha leaders are not allowed to use the rallies for political mileage. However, they are allowed to participate in the rally.

After the rallies involving millions of people in all the major cities of the state, the Maratha Kranti Morcha organised a protest rally at Navi Mumbai on Wednesday. (21 September).

Around three lakh Maratha community members from Navi Mumbai and Raigad district participated in the rally. The rally began at Kharghar, in Navi Mumbai and culminated at Belapur, near the office of Divisional Commissioner, Konkan Division. The delegation of the participants called on the Divisional Commissioner and handed over a memorandum of demands.

Till now over six million people from various parts of the state have participated in the rallies organised in different cities.

Ashwin Aghor

Silent demands

The main demand of the Maratha community in Maharashtra is the inclusion in the OBC category and reservation for the financially and socially weaker sections of the community.

The second demand is amendment in the SC and the ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 claiming that the Act has been grossly misused against Maratha community in the state.

And the third demand is a death penalty for the accused of Kopardi gang rape and murder case. The victim of the incident was from Maratha community while the suspects are from Dalit community.

Ashwin Aghor

No politics please!

Marathwada region of Maharashtra has a history of conflict between Maratha and Dalit communities.

The silent rallies being taken out in the state are giving all political parties sleepless nights. Since the people do not allow political leaders to hijack the issue, they are left with no option but to join the rallies as participants.

Most of the rallies are led by five to six young girls from the community, under the guidance of organisers.

The political parties and leaders are in a fix as a major chunk of voters in the state - which constitutes to whooping 32% - is up against the Dalit community which forms 11% of the electorate.

The root cause of the protest is the failure of the political leaders to meet the long-standing demand of reservation.

"These leaders used the community for their political growth. We have been demanding reservation for the financially and socially weaker sections of the community since long and the political leaders, especially those from Maratha community, kept on assuring to fulfil the demand. But nothing was done. The political leaders benefited from the community and we were left to the mercy of god," said Namdeo Patil, a resident of Navi Mumbai, who participated in the rally.

Ashwin Aghor

Keeping it peaceful

The rally in Navi Mumbai, like the other rallies across the state, was completely peaceful.

Mansigh Pawar, a resident of Aurangabad, who, along with his like-minded friends launched the agitation said, "We want our long pending dues. Successive governments have failed to fulfil our demands. The rallies are our way of venting the anger and unrest among the Maratha community. We want to express our grief by way of penance. Our objective is to get a reservation for the community and amendment in The SC and the ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989."

Referring to politics over the rallies and the blame game going on in political corridors of the state, Pawar said, "We are not against anyone, neither the current government nor the previous ones. Similarly, we don't have any grudge against any community, be it Dalits or Brahmins. The main objective of the rallies is that we want to show our strength. No one, including the Maratha political leaders, should give a political colour to the rallies."

Political analyst and former general secretary of Mumbai Congress ,Ajit Sawant, says, "What happens to the self-esteem when Maratha money lender does not give loan waiver to Maratha farmer. When Maratha directors of sugar mill do not give proper rates to Maratha sugarcane growers, Maratha brokers and traders cheat Maratha farmers at APMC. There has to be unrest against the established Maratha political dynasties, who have been silent on these issues. One must get to the root of the question of who is fuelling the anger against Dalit and the intentions behind it. There must be a revolt against the dynasties who never allowed deserving Maratha youths to grow politically. One must ask these hard questions to the established leaders."

We want no politics...but...

No matter how hard they try to keep the rallies apolitical, the inevitable has happened. The Maratha leaders across the parties have started politics over the peaceful rallies.

After Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in an interview to Doordarshan last week claimed that the rallies were not against the government and that they were being propagated by some leaders, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo Sharad Pawar retaliated asserting that the rallies, indeed, were against the government due to its failure to implement Maratha reservation.

"The issue of Maratha reservation is long pending. The previous government, with an intention to earn votes, granted the reservation. But it could not stand the test of law and Bombay High Court rejected it as the total reservation in the state went beyond 70%. If Pawar was so concerned about the betterment of Maratha community, why didn't he do it in 15 years of his party being in power at the state and the centre," asks Madhav Bhandari, BJP spokesperson.

Bhandari feels that the decision of the state government to bring about reforms in the cooperative sector has rattled Sharad Pawar to the core.

"After having been thrown out of power, NCP is only restricted to the APMCs and the cooperative sector. Pawar has been clutching the cooperative sector and APMCs across the state. Now with the reforms, he has started losing the grip on these two sectors as well. This could be the trigger for the unrest," Bhandari said.

NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik who undermined the movement feels that the Maratha agitation in the state is just a part of large-scale unrest due to agrarian crisis. He reiterated that the rallies were taken out against the government.

"We took a decision on reservation as assured. Now the current government has to implement it. The agrarian crisis across the country is a major reason for the unrest. Farmers are most unhappy under this government. We support reservation, loan waiver, fair price and amendment in The SC and The ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. BJP is trying to divert the issue. People are demanding their dues from the government and this government is going back on promises," Malik said.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 21 September 2016, 21:53 IST