The protests organised by groups from the Maratha community demanding action in the Ahmednagar rape case over the past few days have created a flutter in the state’s political circles and caused unease in the ruling camp.
On Tuesday, a massive protest march was held at Beed. Two similar protest marches were organized in Aurangabad and Osmanabad in the recent past. All three cities are in central Maharashtra or Marathwada. The response to these silent protests marches, especially among youths in the Maratha community, has rattled many in the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena camp. The commonly asked question in the state’s corridors of powers is — Are the Maratha community groups planning something similar to what Patels did in neighbouring Gujarat?
The marches were held to protest the brutal rape and murder of a minor from the community in Kopardi village of Ahmednagar in north Maharashtra. The three accused belonged to the scheduled caste, sparking anger in the dominant Maratha community in Ahmednagar district, which has a history of caste-based violence. There was also a demand to scrap the Atrocities Act (Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Tribes Act—a stringent law that was enacted to stop violence against socially backward classes). Soon, protests started in Marathwada region, which borders the Ahmednagar district. Similar protests are now planned at nine other cities to press for various demands including the repeal of the Atrocities Act.
Significantly, politicians are not leading these protests, which are being held under the banner a newly floated non-political outfit, Maratha Kranti Samiti. The protests are just silent marches.
Pravin Gaikwad, head of Sambhaji brigade — an aggressive Maratha outfit — said silent protests are being organized in various districts of western Maharashtra, north Maharashtra and Vidarbha. The next protest march will be at Solapur and Pune followed by Dhule, Satara and Kolhapur.
The Maratha community is politically, economically and socially dominant—something similar to Patels in Gujarat.
However, political observers blame a combination of factors, including a perception that politically dominant Marathas are losing their social and economic status which is interlinked with their honour. This phenomenon, according to observers, is working in favour of mobilization of the community on a large scale.
“Marathas are increasingly feeling they are losing their status and honour. The Kopardi incident has reinforced this view leading to insecurity in the community. This insecurity is driving the current mobilization,” said Prakash Pawar, professor of political science at Shivaji University.
The ruling BJP-Sena blamed the Opposition, especially Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party, for the well-organised protests seen as a show of strength.
“There has been a strong demand for reservation for the Maratha community in government jobs and education. The Congress-NCP government took a decision, but it was struck down by the HC. The current government is being accused of not fighting the legal battle properly to ensure reservation for the community. Further, with the change in regime, there is a sense that Marathas don’t wield power and clout in Maharashtra now. The balance of power was heavily tilted towards Marathas in the previous Congress-NCP regime,” said a key BJP leader.
The demand by Marathas to repeal the Atrocities Act has also reopened Maharashtra’s caste fault-lines, sparking tension between dalits and politically dominant Marathas.
Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, said the current mobilization of Marathas in large numbers will lead to consolidation of dalits and OBCs on one hand and the Marathas on the other.