Reservation row: Marathas set to take to the streets again in Maharashtra
Four years after the rape and murder of a girl from the community spurred Maratha protests in Maharashtra, leading to a separate quota for the dominant caste, it is yesterday once more in the state. Upset with the apex court’s interim stay on their reservation in education and jobs, the Maratha community has decided to take to the streets once again to protest the chief minister Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government’s “apathy” in handling the litigation.
In phase one, the silent Maratha morchas led by lakhs of members took the previous Fadnavis government by a storm. The Maratha protests 2.0 could similarly spook the Thackeray-led government, which is already battling the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 2016 protests had culminated in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government passing a Maratha reservation bill in 2018, promising the community 16% reservation in jobs and education. The Bombay high court had upheld the state law, but sought a reduction in the quota to 12% and 13%, in jobs and education, respectively. Earlier this month, this quota was stayed just as admissions to colleges were being carried out, even as the petition was forwarded to a larger constitutional bench.
Maratha community leaders have blamed the Thackeray-led government for not being alert enough to avoid the interim stay. They also suspect and claim the state government versus the Centre tussle has led to this legal face-off. “The community is angry. This government was not alert enough. To add to this, within two days, they announced the recruitment of 12,000 police constabulary. What message does that send to our community? The state education minister did not even wait for the written judgment and stayed the entire admission process following TV announcements,” said Virendra Pawar, a Maratha leader.
Pawar also blamed the Central government versus MVA face-off indirectly. “They (the MVA) should take the BJP into confidence and ensure the stay on our reservation is vacated. The other promises made by them post the stay, including granting the community reservation within EWS, are problematic and not legally tenable,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Maratha Kranti Morcha, umbrella organisation, which had led the protests earlier, is back in action. So far, decentralised small protests have been held across the state, including in Mumbai. On September 27, a mega protest, ‘Akrosh Andolan’, has been planned in Pune, where the community will protest outside homes of politicians across parties. The community has also threatened a state-wide agitation on October 10, if its various demands, including a stay on all recruitments and completing admissions of students already granted seats, are not fulfilled.
Plans to protest have not been called off, despite a plea by Thackeray to avoid demonstrations during the pandemic. State public works minister Ashok Chavan, who also heads a ministerial sub-committee on Maratha reservation, said, “We are going to safeguard the interests of the Maratha community even while we abide by the apex court. We will accommodate them within 10% EWS quota. At the same time, we have moved for revocation of the stay by the apex court. We are also making sure various existing provisions for the community such as scholarships for higher education and seed money for Maratha entrepreneurs are strengthened.”
Maratha youngsters are, however, not placated. Pooja Zole, a young Maratha activist with Maratha Kranti Morcha, said youngsters feel the community is being betrayed again. “Our community protests have been going on for 30 years. In 2014, too, we were given reservation, which got stayed. Now, just as admissions are in progress, an interim stay has been imposed. We feel our community is used for politics of vote,” said Zole.
She said the community did not care about politics and would target all who made irresponsible statements against Maratha reservation.
While the BJP has said it is with the government on the issue of Maratha reservation, the state unit of the party has not held back from blaming the MVA for the current scenario.
Chandrakant Patil, state president of BJP, said, “We brought out a reservation bill for the community, which was endorsed by the HC. But this Aghadi failed to represent even that bill properly in the SC.”
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