Jarange-Patil to keep date with Mumbai | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Jarange-Patil to keep date with Mumbai

Jan 26, 2024 08:34 AM IST

Here is the plan: Jarange-Patil will hoist the tri-colour at Azad Maidan at 11 am on Friday, they said. However, till late Thursday evening, there was no formal confirmation from the cops. Police officials told HT that they would escort them via the Eastern Freeway to avoid traffic chaos in the city

Pune/Mumbai: Maratha activist Manoj Jarange-Patil, 41, set out on his protest march from Antarwali Sarathi village, in Jalna, on January 20. After travelling around 400 kilometers through Beed, Ahmednagar and Pune over five days, accompanied by lakhs of supporters, on the eve of his march to Azad Maidan, organisers claimed after discussions Mumbai police, the latter gave its nod for the protest in the city.

Pune, India. Jan 24, 2024 - Maratha activist Manoj Jarange - Patil started the Marataha Aarakshan Morcha with thousands of Supporters from Antarwali Sarati in Jalna district of Maharashtra to Mumbai. demanding Maratha reservation. The morcha will reach Mumbai on 26th. Jan 24, 2024. (Photo by Raju Shinde/ HT Photo)
Pune, India. Jan 24, 2024 - Maratha activist Manoj Jarange - Patil started the Marataha Aarakshan Morcha with thousands of Supporters from Antarwali Sarati in Jalna district of Maharashtra to Mumbai. demanding Maratha reservation. The morcha will reach Mumbai on 26th. Jan 24, 2024. (Photo by Raju Shinde/ HT Photo)

Here is the plan: Jarange-Patil will hoist the tri-colour at Azad Maidan at 11 am on Friday, they said. However, till late Thursday evening, there was no formal confirmation from the cops. Police officials told HT that they would escort them via the Eastern Freeway to avoid traffic chaos in the city. Each policeman has been told not to use force and display empathy towards the protestors, said an official. Earlier, in a bid to convince Jarange-Patil to halt his march to Mumbai, on behalf of the government, Aurangabad divisional commissioner Madhukar Raje Ardad along with other officials, met him in Lonavala and apprised him of the progress made by the government so far over to meet his demands. However, the activist remained determined.

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Virendra Pawar, a city-based Maratha activist, said, “Our lawyers approached the police and asked them to allow the protest at the designated place -- Azad Maidan -- which is spread across 7,000 square meters. They also said that the police cannot deny the permission at the eleventh hour for which a permission was sought on January 20.”

The long march dotting several cities was announced by the activist on December 23, to push for reservation of Marathas in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) quota. Lakhs of supporters have joined him, many adding to the volume along the way. He had said earlier after camping in Azad Maidan on Republic Day, he will go on an indefinite hunger strike till the government accepts his demands – of issuing Kunbi caste certificates to all Marathas who have documents to prove their antecedents and their blood relatives.

“I am going to Azad Maidan in Mumbai,” said a resolute Jarange-Patil, after government officials failed to convince him otherwise. “I will begin my fast at Azad Maidan and not in Navi Mumbai. We are prepared to stay in Mumbai for a long period,” he said while addressing a rally in Lonavala from where he resumed his onward march on Thursday afternoon. He also said that he is ready to hold discussions with chief minister Eknath Shinde and his deputies Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar. On Thursday, chief minister Shinde reiterated his government’s commitment to reservation for the Maratha community. “The survey (to assess backwardness of the community) is on. Certificates are being given to those who have produced documents to support their claim to be Kunbis,” said Shinde.

Earlier on Wednesday, this reporter joined the march at Wagholi, Pune, and walked with the supporters for around 11 kilometers till they reached S B Road. “We cannot lose trust in the government but at the same time we are not going to stop our agitation,” the activist told HT taking a break in Kharadi.

The march to the country’s commercial capital was inevitable as the activist believes that government had failed to keep its promise in the last seven months. The community is not keen on a fresh move for reservations, unsure if it will pass legal scrutiny. “If it is scrapped by the court, we will have to start the agitation afresh,” he said.

“Marathas will get reservation only if we get it from the OBC quota. The demand is based on 57 lakh documents of Marathas with Kunbi antecedents found so far. This proves that we are Kunbis (a peasant sub-caste of Marathas, who get reservation under the OBC category) who are part of the OBC community,” he explained. Earlier, Shinde had declared that he will hold a special session in February where the decision to provide Maratha reservation would be taken. The government is expected to enact a fresh law for reservation to Marathas on the basis of a survey of the Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes (MSCBC) that has been tasked to complete it by January 31.

As he walked with supporters, he pointed to the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018, that was scrapped by the Supreme Court on May 5, 2021. The act enabled the state government to provide 12% reservation in education and 13% reservation in government jobs to the Maratha community. A review petition filed by the state government was also dismissed by the apex court on April 21, 2023.

“In case the new act for Maratha reservation passes legal scrutiny then it is up to the Marathas to decide what benefits they would want to avail,” he said.

Roughly one third of the state’s population is from the Maratha community. A majority of MLAs in the state assembly and a significant number of ministers in successive governments have emerged from the community. And yet, the largely agrarian lot has been beleaguered with limited job opportunities as few have access to higher education, which affects their prospects in government jobs – a lucrative option in the rural belts.

This large section of impoverished people has chosen to back Jarange-Patil’s agitation, even if it means putting on hold the need to earn their daily bread. The support base was invisible to the political dispensation, until a lathicharge in Jalna on him and fellow protestors, as they sat on an indefinite hunger strike, on September 1. The backlash from the community forced the Shiv Sena-BJP government to sit up and take note of his agitation. A spark was lit and Jarange-Patil soon became a household name. After two back-to-back hunger strikes in Jalna, the community started looking upon him as their saviour.

Through the march enroute Mumbai, he was seen meeting people who turned up to seek his blessings, give him a traditional welcome – aukshan, or an aarti that was traditionally performed for warriors before they went to war -- or simply take a selfie. He does not walk with police. He has his own security cover that comprises people from his own community. He is surrounded by a two-layer ring of human chain – the outer comprises young men, while the inner circle consists of women. Their single point agenda is to prevent anyone from touching their leader through the march.

The young that joined the activist feel they were denied opportunities because of the existing reservation system. They have joined him with any mode of conveyance they could access – from bullock-carts, to two-wheelers, tractors, tempos, to high-end cars.

Satish Kotule, 31, is one such citizen from Warwati village, in Beed district. As he waited along with his associates by his tempo at Pune’s Kharadi bypass, to join the activist, he shared his frustration of not being able to get a job despite a master’s degree in commerce, which compelled him to run a small hotel. “I struggled to become independent for 10 years. There was no reservation for us to help get a government job,” he said, emphasising that the government would have given them reservation in seven months, “if it wanted to”. Kotule and nine others use the tempo to rest in the night. All have carried daily essentials before setting out on January 20.

“We don’t have to worry about meals because people are distributing food at every corner. The entire village has pooled in to fund our fuel expenses,” he said. Shrikrishna Sakpal, 32, and 29 others travelled in a large vehicle pulled by a tractor, from Bondargaon village, Sonpeth, Parbhani district. They created a make-shift mezzanine partition in the vehicle so that some of them could sleep at night. The rest would have to make do stretching a blanket underneath the tractor. They carried their own non-perishable food articles, such as rice, flour, poha, onion, chillies and pickles, to cook on the go.

“Despite passing HSC I did not get a job. We lost hope in the government and thus decided to embark on the march,” said Sapkal. Santosh Pawar, 39, who is a decorator from Aurangabad, drove on his bike to Antarwali Sarathi village, to make the onward journey towards Mumbai. He carried a tent, a blanket, carpet and some clothes, and took meals that community members offered in packets along the way. “We are not looking for facilities. We are protesting for our rights,” he said.

Members from the community who could not participate in the march, contributed to the cause by volunteering – they cooked, and offered snacks, beverages and water to protestors at intervals along the way. Manoj Shelke, 34, a pilot, who is a resident of Chandan Nagar, Pune, distributed khichdi and tea to the protestors. “I had obtained 85% marks in SSC but could not get admission in Fergusson College and ended up at Nowrosjee Wadia College. I don’t need reservation for myself but those who are deserving should get it,” said Shelke. He was joined with friends and relatives.

Ishwar Jadhav, 42, a labourer from Vadgaon Dhayari, Pune, and his friends collected funds to buy 12,000 bottles of packaged water to distribute. “We have records to prove we are part of the OBC community. We got reservation during Shivaji Maharaj’s time. On what basis is the OBC community getting reservation,” he said when asked why the community was seeking a slice from the OBC quota.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Faisal is with the political team and covers state administration and state politics. He also covers NCP.

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