Maharashtra CM Fadnavis cancels Pandharpur visit after Maratha groups threaten to disrupt it
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Sunday said he will not visit Pandharpur, in the Solapur district, as planned on Monday — a decision that comes after Maratha outfits threatened to disrupt his visit, as they intensify their agitation for reservations for the community in education and government jobs.
It’s a long-standing tradition in Maharashtra for the chief minister and his spouse to conduct the morning prayers for the deities at the Lord Vitthal temple in Pandharpur on Ashadi Ekadashi. This tradition has been important to the Warkari sect, which has a large following in the state. This is the first time in two decades that a chief minister would not be present for the prayers.
Fadnavis said he had received intelligence reports that miscreants may try to create trouble. “No one can stop me from going for the prayers at Pandharpur,” Fadnavis said. “But, I don’t want to create any trouble for the 10 lakh pilgrims who are already there. There are intelligence inputs that some miscreants can create trouble, which may result in an untoward incident.’’
The CM added that stopping a chief minister from doing the prayers was “absolutely wrong”. “I have been attending the prayer as a representative of the people of Maharashtra. If the community can get reservations by pelting stones at me, then I am ready for that too,’’ he said.
The Maratha protests were triggered in 2016, by the brutal rape and murder of a minor girl in Ahmednagar. The community’s main demand at the time was the death penalty for her attackers. The protests have since grown into a statewide movement, with demands now including reservations in government jobs and education, a revision of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the construction of the Shivaji statue in the Arabian Sea, and freeships to economically backward Maratha students. Between August 9, 2016 and August 9, 2017, the community had held 58 massive silent marches in several parts of the state — the last a massive rally in Mumbai. Now, nearly a year later, several Maratha outfits have once again started increasing the pressure on the state government to fulfil its demands quickly.
The last time a chief minister decided against conducting the prayers at the temple was 1997, when Manohar Joshi was at the helm. Dalit outfits had said they would oppose his visit, after a police firing at Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar in Mumbai left 10 Dalits dead.
Organisers responded to the CM’s statement on Sunday, calling it “irresponsible”. “Basically, he is trying to defame a community that has been peaceful during rallies conducted over the past two years, in which lakhs of people have taken part,” said Virendra Pawar, one of the organisers. “Threatening to stop the CM doesn’t mean he will be attacked. It only means blocking his way, and that too, to highlight our problems,” Pawar said.
Meanwhile, some agitators in Solapur blocked a cavalcade of senior BJP minister Subhash Deshmukh on Sunday, after which the minister promised them that the state would provide reservations in jobs and education to the community by the next Ashadhi Ekadashi. Deshmukh, who is from Solapur, was on his way to Pandharpur when his cavalcade was blocked. Deshmukh tried to pacify the protestors by saying he would resign if the government failed to keep its word.
In Mumbai too, the community held small protests at three places— Lalbaug, Goregaon and Chembur. Pawar said, “This is just the beginning. We will continue our protests in the city in different forms. However, there won’t be any violence.”
Meanwhile, a sit-in protest by the community at Parli, in the Beed district, has entered its sixth day. The community has been demanding 16% reservation in government jobs and education. Currently, it is demanding that the government puts on hold the recruitment for 72,000 posts until the Bombay high court’s verdict on the quota question.
Fadnavis said the government could not hold the entire recruitment process as youths from all the communities will get affected. “We will reserve 16% posts in the name of filling backlog, which means recruitment for these posts is going to be held up,” he said.
As the stir gains momentum once again, political parties in the state criticised the chief minister for failing to resolve the issue. “Fadnavis is facing this disgrace of not being able to attend the special prayers at Pandharpur because, so far, he had being making tall promises,” said Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant.
Jayant Patil, the state NCP chief, said the chief minister wouldn’t have to face such a situation if he had resolved the issue on time. MNS chief Raj Thackeray said the state was using a time-buying tactic. “What is the guarantee the Maratha community will get the 16% reservation?”.
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