Organisers of Maratha protests in Maharashtra are leveraging the support for the mass movement to move into politics but overriding ambitions are causing rifts among them.
While Sambhaji Brigade, a militant Maratha outfit, has recently become a political party with plans to contest upcoming municipal polls, some others who played key roles in galvanizing the community including former Sambhaji Brigade state unit chief Praveen Gaikwad, office bearers of Maratha Seva Sangh Shantaram Kunjir and Srimant Kokate along with their supporters joined the leftist political outfit Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) in Pune on January 12.
After a brief lull, local Maratha outfits have planned another protest rally in Mumbai on March 6 with plans to make it a success after December 14 Nagpur rally turned out to be lacklustre.
According to political observers, activists of Maratha outfits plans to leverage the support generated by the recent protests for which the community hit the streets in large numbers demanding reservation and repeal of Atrocity Act in the upcoming municipal and panchayat samiti elections.
However, their separate paths have raised eyebrows about ego clashes among them and bigger political aspirations.
“There have been experiments in the past when caste-based outfits formed political parties with little or no success. I think Sambhaji Brigade as a political party has no future which is why I decided to join PWP,” said Gaikwad while admitting that he had stopped overseeing Sambhaji Brigade work due to ego clashes even before he joined the PWP.
This is not the first time Maratha outfits are flirting with politics. In the past, Maratha Mahasangh and other organisations formed political outfits such as Shiv Sangram and Maratha Swarajya Party but failed to make an impact. When asked why he and others have joined PWP when there were other options available Gaikwad said he would not have got the status he aims to achieve in other political parties.
Earlier, Sambhaji Brigade president Manoj Akhare while justifying outfit’s decision to convert into political force, said, political power is necessary to achieve change in the society.
“Sambhaji Brigade has been into social work for the past two decades. However, besides social activities, nothing substantial was achieved which why we have set up a political party through which we intent to fight all the upcoming polls,” said Akhare.
Besides being the driving force behind Maratha agitation which erupted after a minor girl from the community was raped in Kopardi of Ahmednagar district last year, Sambhaji Brigade came into focus during 2004 after its activists vandalized internationally acclaimed Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in Pune. Recently, the outfit was in the news for vandalizing statute of famous Marathi playwright Ram Ganesh Gadkari.
The Maratha outfits joining politics have worried mainstream parties such as Congress and the NCP as they feel the community organizations will eat into their vote-bank. For years, Marathas have solidly stood behind NCP and the Congress in the state. It was for the same reason that both Congress and the NCP opposed Sambhaji Brigade’s act of vandalizing Gadkari’s statue despite the fact that both parties in the past have shared proximity with the Maratha outfit.