Fearing a tepid response — owing to the anticipated poll code of conduct — the city-based organisers of the Maratha protests have decided to put the much-touted January 31 protest march in Mumbai on hold.
The state leadership of the Maratha Kranti Morcha, which was planning the January 31 protest in the state capital, will now meet in Mumbai on January 15 to take a final call regarding the date of the Mumbai chapter of the protests.
Virendra Pawar, one of the organisers, said, “We got calls from a lot of people interested in attending the mega protests asking us to push the date forward. The model code of conduct will be imposed in the city at that time, in the run up to the Mumbai civic body elections. Protestors, especially those attached to political parties, said their hands will be full with party work before elections and they will not be able to devote much time to the social cause of Marathas.”
He added that likewise, several districts heading for Zilla Parishad elections will also be under the poll code of conduct, and interested Maratha protestors there are facing the same issues.
Besides this, January 31 is also the date of the ‘Majhi Ganpati’ festival, making it difficult for several to participate in a protest at that time, Pawar said.
Maratha groups have been organising protests across the state since the middle of last year, initially seeing high turnouts with lakhs of people across political parties on the road.
The Nagpur chapter of the protests, held in December to coincide with the winter session of the legislative assembly in the city, had a very lukewarm turnout in comparison, raising questions of whether the spark is starting to fizzle out.
Questions are also being raised about whether the protests are really apolitical, with a Maratha outfit that was actively participating in the protests, the Sambhaji Brigade, having announced its intentions of contesting the upcoming elections across the state.
The Mumbai chapter of the silent protests has been touted to be the penultimate move of the Maratha community, and organisers cannot afford to have a poor turnout, especially after the Nagpur debacle.
The protests are pushing for the community’s demand for reservations in government jobs and education, capital punishments for those guilty of raping and killing a Maratha girl in Kopardi last year, and a revision of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, alleging its misuse.
Besides worries of a poor turnout, organisers are also concerned that a protest during the poll code of conduct will not elicit an immediate strong-enough response from the state government, which will also be bound by the dos and don’ts of the poll code.