Lathi charge on Maratha protestors snowballs into political controversy, opposition demands Fadnavis resignation
Opposition parties in Maharashtra, led by NCP chief Sharad Pawar, have demanded the resignation of Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis over the police lathi charge on Maratha protestors in Jalna. The Maratha outfits are also calling for Fadnavis' resignation and plan to hold a protest. Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has assured the Maratha community that he will work towards getting them reservation in government jobs and education. Pawar has called for a judicial probe into the incident and criticized Fadnavis for not taking responsibility. Other political leaders have also questioned the use of excessive force against peaceful protestors.
The police lathi charge on Maratha protestors in Jalna has snowballed into a political controversy. The opposition parties led by NCP chief Sharad Pawar on Saturday demanded the resignation of deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who is also the home minister of the state. Pawar pointed a finger at Fadnavis, alleging that he ordered a lathi charge on “peaceful protestors” and stressed that he should resign in keeping with “the code of ethics followed by Maharashtra politicians for decades”.
Apart from Pawar, Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray and Congress leaders also demanded Fadnavis’ resignation. The Maratha outfits too have begun echoing this, and will hold a protest at Dadar on Sunday to press for their demand.
In a bid to pacify the Maratha community, chief minister Eknath Shinde on Saturday assured its members that he would not rest until they got reservation in government jobs and education. Fadnavis chose to maintain silence on the issue but state BJP president Chandrashekhar Bawankule blamed Thackeray for losing the legal battle vis-à-vis Maratha reservation in the Supreme Court when he was CM.
The lathi charge on Friday took place in Antarvali-Sarati village in Jalna where a group of Maratha activists, led by one Manoj Jarange-Patil, were on a strike for four days. Patil and his supporters continued the protest on Saturday even after the police action.
Pawar reached Jalna on Saturday afternoon and met protesters who were injured and being treated at a hospital. Later, he visited Antavali-Sarote and extended support to Jarange-Patil and others.
During a subsequent media interaction, Pawar recalled that following a stampede after a lathi charge in 1994, the then tribal development minister Madhukar Pichad had resigned—as had home minister R R Patil years later after making a controversial statement that trivialised the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. “The person (Devendra Fadnavis) questioning me on the Gowari stampede incident heads the home department... A responsible person should own up responsibility,” Pawar said.
The NCP chief demanded a judicial probe into the incident and said the video footage clearly indicated that the protesters were assaulted and not the police. Udayaraje Bhonsle, BJP Rajya Sabha MP and descendant of Maratha king Shivaji Maharaj, visited the village at the same time as Pawar and also demanded a judicial probe. He said he would insist on the dismissal of police officers who ordered the lathi charge.
Thackeray, who visited the village along with senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan late on Saturday, had said earlier in Mumbai that the police took drastic action only when they got specific orders. “We need to find out who ordered the lathi charge,” he said. “We used to meet Maratha activists when we were in power and also supported Maratha reservation. We never lathi-charged them. They are not terrorists but sons of this soil.” Chavan too questioned why excessive force was used against people who were staging a peaceful protest.
On Friday, Fadnavis had said that the police were forced to lathi-charge due to stone pelting by the mob. Sensing the anger in the community, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar on Saturday said the police action was excessive and appealed for a peaceful agitation.
Meanwhile, in a statement, chief minister Shinde appealed to the Maratha community not to take the law into its hands. “The Maratha community has been fighting for its rights in a peaceful manner,” he said. “It took out about 58 marches across the state in a disciplined manner. But now some selfish political leaders are pursuing their agenda under the guise of welfare of Maratha youths. I request the protestors to be wary of selfish political leaders, who, when in power, gave priority to only a section of society and conveniently ignored them.”