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Leading the way into darkness...or light?

Maharashtra is beginning to confound and confuse both sociologists and political analysts. The ongoing Maratha morchas in the state are growing in numbers by the day as they make their way towards the state capital and yet, for such large crowds, they leave nothing behind in their wake – no chaos, no violence and not even any litter

maratha silent protests Updated: Sep 28, 2016 00:43 IST
Sujata Anandan
But talking to political analysts, one gathers the impression that while the morchas are dividing the Maharashtrian society and polity back again into various bitterly opposed caste groups — Dalits, Marathas, OBCs and Brahmins — the Marathas themselves might have nothing in common but their caste.
But talking to political analysts, one gathers the impression that while the morchas are dividing the Maharashtrian society and polity back again into various bitterly opposed caste groups — Dalits, Marathas, OBCs and Brahmins — the Marathas themselves might have nothing in common but their caste.(HT File Photo)

Maharashtra is beginning to confound and confuse both sociologists and political analysts. The ongoing Maratha morchas in the state are growing in numbers by the day as they make their way towards the state capital and yet, for such large crowds, they leave nothing behind in their wake – no chaos, no violence and not even any litter.

I have always insisted that Maharashtra has been the torch bearer for the rest of the country in terms of social reforms and progressive policies over the centuries. But now the peaceful Maratha morchas — like the Patidar and Jat agitations in Gujarat and Haryana for similar reservations were not — have to go down in history as another trend setter. Young Marathas participating in these morchas have been cocking snooks at Dalits and other groups about their discipline and restraint. “We have shown to the world who we were historically and still are – soldiers, who never breach discipline or break the law,’’ one young man said on television to a prominent Dalit leader known to incite the passions of his people which has, on occasion, led to violence.

But talking to political analysts, one gathers the impression that while the morchas are dividing the Maharashtrian society and polity back again into various bitterly opposed caste groups — Dalits, Marathas, OBCs and Brahmins — the Marathas themselves might have nothing in common but their caste. “Who benefits from the reservations?’’ asks professor Prakash Pawar of Shivaji University in Kolhapur. “Only the middle classes who might want such government jobs.’’

Why then are the landless labourers marching side by side the landed gentry? And farmers, even if middle class, who have nothing in common with government job seekers are standing shoulder to shoulder with all other Maratha classes. They are all united as a race now, across ideological divides.

While that is a subject for study by sociologists, the meeting between the state minister for women and child welfare Pankaja Munde and NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal last week has been even more confusing. In fact, former Union minister Praful Patel described her visit to Bhujbal in the hospital as “astonishing’’, particularly as around the same time in Nashik, Bhujbal’s home turf, the BJP state vice president Vasant Gite also met NCP office bearer and Bhujbal supporter Dilip Khaire and the duo leaked photos of their meet on social media. When asked by flummoxed journalists what the two could have had in common, they blithely declared, “Bhujbal. We are going to hold a morcha to press for his release.’’

Now that confounds political analysts even more than the Maratha morchas do. Why a street action by BJP functionaries for Bhujbal’s release from jail when they have a government in power?

The indications, however, are that securing Bhujbal’s freedom is just a pretext. Between the Maratha morchas and Dalit unity, as well as Brahmin domination of the government, OBCs are beginning to feel rather overpowered and edged out. They worry that the Maratha demand for reservations might ultimately cut into their quotas and, after the death of Gopinath Munde, there is no taller leader than Bhujbal to take up the OBC cause. For Bhujbal had even fronted the Mahatma Phule Samata Parishad a few years ago and attempted to unite OBCs across the country but soon gave up the exercise as futile. But now, with the non-Brahmin and non-Dalit forces across states agitating, violently or peacefully, for a similar cause, political observers are beginning to see the germ of an idea in Pankaja’s visit to Bhujbal – whether it takes root and grows in proportion like the Maratha morchas have done or even unites OBCs across India, as Dalits can accomplish for a common cause, remains to be seen.

However, a social churning seems to have been unleashed, at least in Maharashtra, and there have even been enlightened clamours for a return to the state’s “Phule-Shahu-Ambedkar’’ ethos. Pockets of darkness, though, still exist and common people too are now spewing venom at ‘others’ and tearing apart the social fabric.

Where might all this end? A return to Maratha domination, which is essentially what Marathas are agitated about? Or will the growing chasm between the various communities widen and spew more lava that might likely engulf the state in flames?

Either way, I am convinced the people of Maharashtra will lead the way – they will either calm the nation or leave it in turmoil for the long years to come.