Are Maratha protests in Maharashtra losing steam?
The protests by the dominant community that makes up 32% Maharashtra’s population had rattled the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, even as rumours about his ouster started making rounds in political circles. But just four months later, the Maratha protests, seem to have lost its steam with Fadnavis-led government having the last laugh...mumbai Updated: Jan 25, 2017 15:23 IST
By late September 2016, the silent Maratha protests had reached a crescendo in the state with nearly 20 districts — more than one third of Maharashtra — covered by agitators demanding reservation in jobs and education for the community.
The protests by the dominant community that makes up 32% of Maharashtra’s population had rattled the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, even as rumours about his ouster started making rounds in political circles.
Just four months later, the Maratha protests, seem to have lost its steam with Fadnavis-led government having the last laugh. On Sunday, in an indication that the protest organisers are confused, the plan to conduct a mega march in Mumbai on January 31 was put on hold, fearing a tepid response. The organisers fear that the ensuing code of conduct for the local elections including the crucial Mumbai civic polls will hamper their supporters — engaged in campaigning for their respective parties — from putting up a strong show of strength.
And, therein lies the irony of the apolitical protests of the community and also perhaps its Achilles Heel.
The faceless protest marches that claim to be non-partisan and leaderless have nevertheless been organised and oiled by workers across all major political parties. Initiated by hardline Maratha groups that have had an allegiance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the protests were soon hijacked by all parties, with local Maratha leaders contributing to the effort with resources or numbers.
To make matters even more complicated, a section of the organisers from the Sambhaji Brigade, enthused by the ground swell of support of the community, is now making a foray in active politics. Sambhaji Brigade plans to contest a majority of the upcoming municipal corporations as well as Zilla Parishad polls.
“It is very difficult for the discontent of the Maratha community to be consolidated as a vote bank in favour of one or the other party. While NCP is seen as a party of Marathas, all political parties including BJP have presence of Maratha leaders. The votes will then be spilled locally on party lines especially in local polls,’’ said a senior Congress leader and former minister.
He added, ``This also brings down their capacity to impact or affect state politics in a big way unless there is a clear leadership or ownership of the unrest with one party.’’
The state government has also been successful in stemming the protests by offering sops like the fee waiver for all Economically Backward Students up to an income limit of Rs6 lakh per annum that will extend to the Maratha community (at the cost of Rs 700 crore to the exchequer). Besides, the government recently laid the foundation stone for the Shivaji memorial (long standing demand of the community) and set up the state backward class commission to look into the demands for the reservation by the community.
For the time being these efforts and local polls has diluted the protests. But, the issue is far from over and is likely to heat up once again before 2019 polls.
There are two reasons for this. One is that the central demand of the community for reservation is jobs and education is unlikely to get implemented in two years. Secondly, the BJP government is seen as targeting the established Maratha leadership that controls rural economy through its network of sugar co-operatives and co-operative banks.
Political analysts feel that the upcoming elections in district councils or zilla parishads (ZPs) that are responsible for rural administration will give an indication of how the Maratha protests issue can impact politics in the state.
“The Marathas issue has a stronger resonance in rural areas and hence will be important in ZP polls. The polls results will tell us whether the community is likely to do any strategic voting. Secondly, there has been a buzz in certain areas that Other Backward Class (OBC) may consolidate their vote bank by rejecting Maratha candidates and this could affect certain parties,’’ said Surendra Jondhale, political analyst.