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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

Maratha agitation: BJP wary, Opposition rejoices

The community’s demand for chief minister’s resignation may be cause for concern for the party ahead of the 2019 elections, say experts.

mumbai Updated: Jul 26, 2018 12:13 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times
Protesters block the busy Sion-Panvel highway at Vashi on Wednesday.
Protesters block the busy Sion-Panvel highway at Vashi on Wednesday.(Bachchan Kumar)

Maratha agitators called off their stir for reservation on Wednesday afternoon, but the issue is far from over. It is likely to fester ahead of the 2019 polls and could have an impact on political calculations.

For, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis – the state’s second Brahmin CM – who handled the first wave of Maratha protests with deft negotiations, this is not good news. For the first time, the ire of the community is being expressed openly against the CM, with the demand for his resignation from a community that makes up 32% of the state’s population.

The government believes round 2 of the Maratha protests doesn’t represent the entire community, but is the handiwork of their political opponents, mainly the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). However, there is no denying that the BJP has been forced to go on the backfoot over the recent agitation that led to two suicides.

“The Maratha youths are frustrated as they don’t see reservation materialising anytime soon. The government erred in a big way by announcing recruitment for 72,000 jobs. This agitation is a clear signal that Marathas will now consolidate against the BJP and their target is the CM, given his identity as a Brahmin. They would want a change in BJP leadership. The NCP will take advantage of this, but even the Sena will play a role in this kind of mobilisation,” said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.

Sanjay Raut, Sena MP, indicated on which side his party was, when he said the agitation was a failure of the state’s leadership and the government had erred by not engaging with the community from Day One.

Both the Congress and NCP stand to gain from the current situation. These parties are also wary of a possible polarisation of the Other Backward Class (OBC) and scheduled castes against the Marathas. Such a polarisation could go in favour of the BJP, especially if Maratha protesters are seen dominating the political narrative.

The BJP may be counting on this, given that it worked for the party in Gujarat Assembly polls last year, when the Patels consolidated against them. The BJP managed to balance out the damage by the Patels by consolidating OBCs in their favour. “It may or may not work in our favour. OBCs don’t vote en bloc. Also, unlike other states, Maharashtra has four political parties, so there is ample space for opposition votes. The Marathas are a dominant community in the state that has voted for us. We have more than 40 Maratha MLAs. We can’t afford to let go off this community so easily,” said a senior BJP leader.

Little wonder then, in a damage control mode and to curb any built-up of anger of the community, several BJP ministers on Wednesday issued statements ensuring the government’s commitment to their demand for reservation. Revenue minister Chandrakant Patil apologised for his statement, where he said the community would get nothing by resorting to violence, saying he had been misquoted.

BJP’s Other Backward Class (OBC) face and women and child development minister Pankaja Munde cancelled birthday celebrations, following the suicide of young protester Kakasaheb Shinde. The minister of state for home, Ranjit Patil, as well as water conservation minister Ram Shinde issued statements in a bid to pacify the community and reiterate the government’s commitment to it. A BJP leader said the leadership believes the protests are a reaction to the irrigation scam investigation gathering steam, as a court-monitored probe will now be underway.

First Published: Jul 26, 2018 12:12 IST