Will the Maratha agitation gain momentum in Maharashtra again?
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Will the Maratha agitation gain momentum in Maharashtra again?

In a bid to revive the agitation, leaders of the outfits will meet at Raigad fort (it was the capital of Maratha warrior king Shivaji) on June 6

mumbai Updated: May 26, 2017 12:47 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Mumbai city news,Maratha agitation,Kopardi rape and murder
A file photo of a Maratha rally.(HT FILE)

Maratha community outfits have announced a fresh programme to resume their agitation for reservation in government jobs and education, along with some other demands. The organisers of the Maratha Kranti Morcha (Maratha Revolution March) have also announced a massive rally in Mumbai on August 9, which happens to be the anniversary of the Quit India Movement.

In a bid to revive the agitation, leaders of the outfits will meet at Raigad fort (it was the capital of Maratha warrior king Shivaji) on June 6.

Later, they will hold a meeting at Kopardi village in Ahmednagar on July 13 – the day when a minor girl from the community was found raped and murdered in the village last year.

The brutal crime led to unprecedented anger in the community and sparked off protests at various places.

Initially, the protests were staged to demand death sentence for the accused, who were from the Dalit community, and scrapping of the Prevention of Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes and Tribes Act, which had led to friction between the Maratha and socially backward communities.

As the protests spread across the state, the demand for reservation for Marathas took centrestage, as the community felt it was no more in position of power in society.

The protests in the second half of 2016 unnerved the ruling BJP which suspected a hand of the Opposition Congress and NCP in it. The agitation fizzled out later due to various reasons.

Now with the Maratha outfits planning to revive their agitation, the moot question is: Will they be able to get the same momentum again?

The success of such agitations is normally measured by the political impact they have. In this case, the ruling BJP was clearly rattled when the agitations received enormous response from the community across the state.

Maratha is the largest community in Maharashtra and has dominated politics since the state was formed in 1960. As the agitations were being staged ahead of the crucial civic and district council polls, which were being touted as mini-assembly elections, the ruling party was worried of its impact. However, as the elections were held and results were out, it became clear the agitations did not have a negative impact on the BJP’s political fortunes.

The ruling party dominated both the rural and civic polls, even defeating the Congress-NCP in their traditional bastions. Demonetisation, which was announced just ahead of the elections, shifted focus from the Maratha agitations. The Fadnavis government held the previous Congress-NCP government responsible for the delay in the decision and the matter is now pending before the Bombay high court.

Further, the agitation polarised non-Marathas such as the other backward classes (who account for more than one-third of the state’s population) and backward caste voters, who apparently preferred the BJP. In fact, the pattern of BJP’s victory in local polls suggests even Maratha voters did not vote entirely against the party.

Little wonder, the agitation lost its sheen.

Now, the community outfits are trying to revive the agitation, but there are doubts whether the intensity of the protests would be the same.

June to August is also a crucial sowing season for farmers in Maharashtra. A large section of Marathas are into farming, and they may prefer completing their farming activities first. As the Maratha protests have evoked strong reactions from other communities, the opposition parties will not openly support the former.

Reviving the agitation is clearly an uphill task for the organisers, who are themselves divided over the way to take it forward.

First Published: May 26, 2017 12:35 IST