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Maratha reservation: BJP calls for protests; Congress warns of superspreaders

The Maratha reservation issue is likely to heat up the political atmosphere in the state again
By Surendra P Gangan, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON MAY 28, 2021 12:07 AM IST

The Maratha reservation issue is likely to heat up the political atmosphere in the state again.

In the middle of Covid pandemic, state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Chandrakant Patil on Thursday urged Marathas to take to the streets for reservation, as a Maratha outfit led by a BJP ally, is starting a march demanding reservation from June 5. On the other hand, the Congress said the Opposition party will be responsible, if the latter’s agitation becomes a Covid super-spreader event. The Congress also alleged there was BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) connection with an outfit that had filed petition against the reservation. Also, Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, a descendant of King Shivaji and BJP MP, has taken an apolitical stand to galvanise support for Maratha reservation across party lines. He met Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar on Thursday and is expected to meet other leaders over the next two days.

In response to a bunch of petitions, the Supreme Court on May 5 delivered a judgment scrapping the quota given to Maratha community in government jobs and education by the Maharashtra government. While the ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government has said the ball is in the Centre’s court now, the BJP has blamed the three-party coalition, saying the latter failed to convince the apex court that Marathas needed reservation. Community outfits have warned of agitations if the quota is not restored by the government.

State BJP president Chandrakant Patil said in Kolhapur on Thursday: “If Maratha community fails to get on the streets and stage agitations for reservation now, it will be late [to safeguard their rights]. Life has not stopped because of Covid. The state has got time till June 4 to file a review petition against the Supreme Court verdict. This deadline will not be extended due to the pandemic.” “If Covid cases spike in Maharashtra after the June 5 agitation, the super-spreader BJP will be held responsible for it,” said state Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant replied.

The Congress also alleged links of BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) with Save Merit Save Nation (SMSN), an outfit which had opposed the Maratha reservation in court and on other platforms. The Congress has said that the officer-bearers of SMSN are directly connected with the BJP. “Dr Anup Marar, the founder of the outfit, is the head of the medical cell for east Nagpur cell of the BJP. He was appointed by Devendra Fadnavis and Chandrakant Patil. Other office-bearers Roy Thomas and Anil Ladhad, too, are closely related to the BJP and RSS. They have shared the platform which had supported the Citizenship Amendment Act. The outfit was formed only after Bombay High Court upheld the reservation in 2019. It had sent four petitioners to oppose the reservation and this has been stated on its official website. The outfit’s website was designed by a company which had handled Fadnavis government’s pet projects like Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan. The BJP should clarify,” alleged Sawant in a virtual press conference on Thursday.

BJP’s chief spokesperson Keshav Upadhye said, “The Congress and NCP leaders financed the petitioners who opposed Maratha reservation.”

The BJP has announced support to agitations by Maratha outfits and has chalked out an outreach programme to keep the issue in focus. At least six Maratha leaders, including leader of opposition Pravin Darekar, Narayan Rane, Prasad Lad, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, Harshavardhan Patil, Ashish Shelar and Narendra Patil, are touring various districts and meeting community leaders and members. “We are targeting 17 districts across the state with the dominance of the community. Leaders will meet the prominent leaders of Sakal Maratha Samaj and Maratha Kranti Morcha and discuss the reservation,” said Shrikant Bhartiya, general secretary of the party.

Meanwhile, the BJP is also disturbed over the stand taken by its Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, who met Pawar and MNS chief Raj Thackeray on Thursday and will be meeting chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and others in next two days. “I have requested Pawarsaheb to take the lead and guide the community,” said Chhatrapati. Earlier, he had urged the community to maintain restraint. He had also said that he was ready to resign as an MP if required.

Patil said on Thursday the former should remember the respect given by the BJP to him. “He was made head of the Raigad development body and was given ample funding for development works. Respecting his position, we ensured that he was not made to come to the party office. He is not talking about 40 other meetings with the PM, while blaming him for denial of appointment after sending four letters,” Patil said.

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