Writing in this column last week, I had raised queries about the strangeness of members of the BJP agitating for the release of former deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal from the Arthur Road jail, where he has been incarcerated for some weeks now on account of alleged financial irregularities in some dealings while he was in government.
Maharashtra minister for women and child welfare Pankaja Munde had called on Bhujbal at JJ Hospital and BJP and NCP functionaries in Nashik, his home turf, came together to organise a `virat’ morcha in his name on Monday.
But the systematic manner in which the march was planned and held quite gave away the real reason behind the coming together of OBCs – while it began as a ‘Release Bhujbal Morcha’, by the end of last week, the organisers had renamed it `Virat OBC Morcha’ to make it easier for BJP functionaries to join without violating any party loyalties.
While Bhujbal’s son, Pankaj, issued a call to those participating in the morcha to be silent, not shout slogans and not litter the streets – taking a leaf straight out of the Maratha book – Pankaja Munde too signalled the Vanjari community in Nashik, the second largest after Marathas in the district, to join the march in large numbers — it also saw her estranged cousin Dhananjay Munde join in.
And the community also had a flag – yellow, with Bhujbal’s face sketched on to it. Which makes me wonder if that was an investment merely for his release or towards establishing him as a cult figure for the OBCs. But while one could understand the OBCs of Nashik turning out in large numbers in support of Bhujbal despite the heavy downpour, I wonder what OBCs from other states across India were doing in that crowd of supposedly 25 lakh people. Obviously, this was not just a morcha to secure Bhujbal’s release – I do not think either of the Munde cousins or even Bhujbal’s son are naïve enough to believe that submitting memorandums to the government and marching in large numbers would overturn the due process of law.
Former Union Minister Praful Patel, while reacting to Pankaja’s visit to Bhujbal, had said, “After all, it is the BJP which has jailed him.’’ Even some members of the BJP believed it was their own government which had accomplished the task. But the strict fact is that it was a petition filed in the Bombay high court by civil society members that took its normal course and brought the action upon Bhujbal – without the judicial intervention, the government may well have turned a blind eye towards the issue. So, as politicians are fond of saying , “The law shall take its own course” — in this case as well.
I recall when the demand for reservations was first raised by Marathas a few years ago, Bhujbal was among the first leaders who had spoken out against his own government and opposed the reservations. But, more importantly, the late Gopinath Munde, too, had then seen which way the wind was blowing and at a Vanjari community meet in Nashik, invited Bhujbal to preside. His words then are worth noting. Quite publicly, he had asked Bhujbal to lead the OBC resistance to attempts to cut into their quotas and said, “When it comes to parties and ideologies, I am your bitterest opponent. But when it comes to OBCs, you are my leader and I, your humble karyakarta (worker or supporter)”.
Not much came of it then, but with the way things are shaping up now, it is obvious that behind the mask of a `Bhujbal bachao andolan’, the seeds of a larger nation-wide movement have been sown in Nashik. For, buried in the middle of their memorandum to the Collector was the plaintive cry – you may give reservations to Marathas but not at the cost of the OBCs. If those from outside Maharashtra who participated in Monday’s morcha carry that message back to their states, Marathas could also morph into Jats, Patidars, Gujjars, etc, wherever such agitations have taken place and we could soon have the nation in conflict with itself. Everybody will then overtly look upon others in terms of castes and communities, destroying the unity in diversity that the country has been trying to build for decades.
We are sowing the wind. Future generations may have to reap the whirlwind.