Taking a leaf from the ongoing Maratha protests, the other backward class (OBC) communities on Monday staged a show-of-strength rally in Nashik on Monday to ensure its reservation quota (27%) is not reduced to accommodate Marathas. The rally marks caste polarisation in Maharashtra, which is likely to intensify further.
Around 5lakh people participated in the 5-km march between Tapovan and Nashik District collector’s office. Although the rally was organized by arrested NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal’s supporters, OBC community members from parts of north Maharashtra, too, attended the rally. In the memorandum submitted to the collector, the organisers asked the government to leave the existing OBC reservation untouched.
A few more rallies will be organized in the state before the final and largest rally in Mumbai after Diwali, similar to the Marathas.
In a copycat syndrome, the OBCs, who account for nearly 52% of the state population, will now reach out to every district. “Our next rally will be held in Beed on October 20 and the concluding rally will be held in Mumbai after Diwali. We are not against reservation for Marathas. Our demand is it should not be given under OBC category,” said Anil Mahajan, state chief of Maharashtra Mali Samaj Mahasangh.
Beed is the constituency of BJP minister Pankaja Munde, daughter of the late Gopinath Munde, who was seen as a leader of OBCs along with Bhujbal.
Bhujbal has been arrested in a money-laundering case. In a memorandum submitted to Nashik collector Radhakrishnan B, protesters claimed Bhujbal and his family were being targeted out of political vendetta. “A certain leader writes the script to corner Bhujbal and his family and the agencies act follow it. In two cases [filed in connection with the construction of Maharashtra Sadan], the land was handed over. How can there be corruption? Great injustice is being done to our leader,” the memorandum states.
“The rallies are being organized to demand Bhujbal’s release. This will ensure there is no direct comparison with Marathas. Community members feel Bhujbal’s name will help unite them and in tuen keep the reservation intact,” said an OBC leader.
“Not only OBCs, even Marathas, Muslims and people from the Scheduled Castes and tribes participated in the rally,” said Mahesh Paithankar, one of the organisers.
Mahajan said dozens of OBC organisations supported the cause, although they decided to keep it faceless. “Not just Samata Parishad, other organizations such as Sant Savata Mali Samaj, Mali Mahasangh were part of the Nashik rally. All these organisations contributed to the expenditure,” he said.
OBC communities, which account for 52% of state’s population, enjoy 27% reservation in education, jobs and political quota in civic bodies.
The rally could however put the NCP, which has been wholeheartedly batting for the Maratha community, in a fix. “I was part of the protest rally and do not think it was the assembly of OBCs. There is no need to read much into it,” said Dhananjay Munde, NCP leader and leader of Opposition in the legislative council. Dhananjay, is the late Gopinath Munde’s nephew and in direct competition with his cousin Pankaja to win the mantle of OBC leader in Marathwada.