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Maratha Protests: CM open to talks with agitators

mumbai Updated: Sep 14, 2016 00:09 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times
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The protests threaten to polarise the state on the lines of caste with a potential face-off between Marathas and the Dalits. (PTI)

 Rattled with the momentum gained by the silent Maratha protest rallies, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday went into a huddle with his senior ministers and BJP leaders and gave an open invite to organisers to hold talks with his government on the issue.

The meeting held at Fadnavis’ official residence Varsha in Malbar Hill saw deliberations on how best to tackle the young protestors and control their simmering discontent that could threaten the party’s performance in the upcoming local self government elections dubbed as mini assembly polls. The election season in the state starts in October 2016 and ends in March 2017. As many as 26 Zilla Parishads, 297 Panchayat Samitis and 9 big civic corporations including Mumbai will go to polls in this time, giving a referendum on the Fadnavis government. The BJP cannot afford to have a majority of the state’s populance unhappy and protesting.

“The protest marches have been organised with great discipline and maturity and even though people have joined them in large numbers, they have been peaceful. The Chief Minister thanked organisers for this. These protest rallies reflect anger of several decades and the government taken a serious note of this anger and discontent. We are open to initiating dialogue on several levels to address these issues,’’ said a statement issued from Fadnavis’ office.

Sources told HT that the party is wary of the protests reflecting badly on the government or going out of hand on the lines of the Patel agitation in Gujarat. There is also a sentiment that the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) could be fanning this movement even if the organisers have distanced themselves from any political party.

As a part of the deliberations, it was decided that BJP’s Maratha leaders will reach out to the community to explain its willingness to consider their demands including reservation for the community in government jobs and education. The party is also looking at deflecting the anger on their predecessors, the Congress-NCP.

”This outrage is against those who came to power in the past in the name of the community, but did nothing for the majority, leaving them backward. The CM is working towards meeting the community’s demand for reservation,’’ said Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar, state labour minister and a young Maratha leader from Marathwada , who was present at the meeting.

The silent protest marches of Marathas started in the aftermath of a brutal rape and murder of a minor 17-year-old girl of the community in Kopardi, in Ahmednagar. Organised by young Maratha youth under the banner of Maratha Kranti Morcha, the protestors have so far eschewed any political backing. The protesters have made three demands including reservation for the community, gallows for the rapists and review of the Atrocity Act.

The protests threaten to polarise the state on the lines of caste with a potential face-off between Marathas and the Dalits. The last time the state was divided on similar lines was when the Marathwada University was renamed as Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar University in 1994.

Dalit leader’s final call

In a move to ensure that the ongoing Maratha protests don’t spur similar rallies by Dalits, Bharipa Bhaujan Mahasangh (BBM) leader and grandson of Dr B R Ambedkar, Prakash Ambedkar on Tuesday cautioned the community to not undertake similar protests. The Maratha protest organisers have demanded a withdrawal of the Atrocity Act that they claim has been misused to harass people. It is a demand that is unlikely to get any support from the Dalits. With the accused in the Kopardi rape case three Dalit men, any such protests could lead to possible caste tension and violence in the state.