Jarange-Patil leaves from Jalna, gathering crowds on the way | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Jarange-Patil leaves from Jalna, gathering crowds on the way

Jan 21, 2024 06:46 AM IST

Maratha activist Manoj Jarange-Patil has begun the third phase of his reservation agitation, the march to Mumbai. The Mumbai police are prepared to handle the large number of protesters, but no force will be used against them. The chief minister has called for special committees to issue Kunbi certificates and complete a survey of Marathas and other open category communities.

STRAP: Police want protest to be held at Khargar, no force will be used against demonstrators

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MUMBAI: After the failure of talks with the state government, Maratha activist Manoj Jarange-Patil began the third phase of his reservation agitation, the march to Mumbai, accompanied by thousands of his community members. The convoy of walkers and vehicles left Jalna’s Antarwali Sarati on Saturday and are expected to reach the city on January 26.

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Chief minister Eknath Shinde convened a high-level meeting on Saturday to review the steps to be taken on the Maratha reservation issue. The urgent meeting was called after Jarange-Patil refused to defer his agitation. The Mumbai police too have been pressed into readiness to tackle a situation where lakhs of people will converge on an already choked city, although they will not use force.

In the emergency meeting, Shinde asked for special committees to be appointed under tehsildars to immediately issue Kunbi certificates based on Nizam-era and pre-independence records. He was apprised that 1.47 lakh Kunbi certificates had already been issued from October, based on the 54 lakh records found. The CM also directed the district administrations to complete the survey of Marathas and other open category communities in the stipulated time of nine days. “The machinery must work in three shifts with a dedicated helpline available round the clock,” he ordered. “Over 1.25 lakh enumerators should visit over 2.5 crore households.”

Jarange-Patil, who has been unremitting in his demand that Marathas be included in the OBC reservation quota, made an emotional speech before his cavalcade set off. Castigating the Maharashtra government for “not keeping its promises”, he declared that Marathas would not step back until they got reservation. “They can even shoot me if they want,” he declared dramatically. “I am not afraid of death. Every corner of Mumbai will be full of Marathas and saffron flags on January 26.”

The government, which has been bending backwards to placate the activist, sent a delegation comprising independent MLA Bachchu Kadu and Officer on Special Duty Mangesh Chivate to meet him. The delegation apprised Jarange-Patil of the government’s efforts and reiterated that it was also collecting empirical data to submit to the Supreme Court in order to attempt a restoration of the reservation quota that the court had quashed in 2021. “We had three meetings during the week to convince Jarange-Patil,” said Kadu. “We made changes in the draft notification related to the granting of certificates to even distant relatives and were expecting him to give the final nod to it. Instead, he decided to go ahead with the protest.”

According to state government officials, the political leadership is unhappy with Jarange-Patil for his frequent changes of stand. “We were expecting the draft notification to be approved by him, but instead he was adamant that certificates be issued to all 5.4 million Marathas based on that many records found in various districts,” said an official. “The CM has been receptive to his demands from the very beginning, but despite this, he did not accede to our request to defer the protest.”

The activist, meanwhile, claimed that his march was receiving tremendous support and the number of participants would touch 30 million by the time he reached Mumbai. “The response at every nook and corner was so overwhelming that we could not reach Georai in time for lunch although it is just 10 km away from our starting point,” said Manoj Shembade-Patil, a fellow protester. “The roads of the entire district are choked with vehicles and hundreds of community members are joining from every village. There is a line of over 15 km on the road heading to Beed with Jarange-Patil.” The activist is travelling in a vanity van “for health and security reasons”.

Maratha leaders have been demanding Azad Maidan or Shivaji Park for staging their dharna but sources said there were very few open spaces left for protests in Mumbai. “The part of Azad Maidan where protest is officially allowed is too small to accommodate large crowds,” said a senior Mumbai police officer. “Besides, Azad Maidan is very close to Mantralaya, so we cannot afford to have a huge crowd there. Shivaji Park too is unviable, as the crowd will block the main roads leading to the city and it can be a security risk. Besides, allowing rallies at Shivaji Park will also mean taking concessions from the government, as usage of the Shivaji Park ground is restricted.”

In 2018, when farmers and farm labourers of Nashik district marched to Mumbai, they were allowed to camp at the Somaiya ground at Chunabhatti, but constructions have now come up there. There is yet another space at Turbhe Mandale, but it is undeveloped while other parts are being used for the Metro 2B car shed.

The Mumbai police has suggested that the morcha be held at Kharghar where there is a lot of open space, and a pandal can be erected for Maratha leaders. “At present, Jarange-Patil may or may not have enough people with him, but as the march passes Lonavala, Panvel, Navi Mumbai and Mumbai, huge crowds will join,” predicted a senior Navi Mumbai police officer. “Marathas from Thane, Kalyan, Dombivli, Vasai-Virar and Mira-Bhayander will also come, and it will be difficult to control the crowd.”

A top IPS officer in the state police headquarters said that the police had only issued an advisory to the march organisers. “They are coming here in a very disciplined manner, and we are not stopping them because any kind of restraint can cause protests,” he said. “CM Eknath Shinde is personally looking into the issue.” Police sources said they would not use force at all as it could backfire—one IPS officer was sent on leave and some others were suspended for action against violent Maratha protests in 2023.

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    Surendra P Gangan is Senior Assistant Editor with political bureau of Hindustan Times’ Mumbai Edition. He covers state politics and Maharashtra government’s administrative stories. Reports on the developments in finances, agriculture, social sectors among others.

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