Some eight weeks ago this column said that the agitation of Marathas would get serious and even bigger, and may not augur well for a progressive Maharashtra. The massive protest — remarkable and exceptional in its conduct – has caught the attention of national and international media. The BJP government, which Marathas accuse of not being receptive to their grievances, has, albeit late, started weighing pros and cons of an unprecedented movement launched by a dominant community.
Going by organisers’ claims, agitating Marathas have taken out 24 silent marches that saw a cumulative participation of about 2 crore from across the state. Places of strategic, political and historic importance – Kolhapur (capital of one of the Maratha royal seats), Mumbai (the state capital) and Nagpur (where the winter session of the state legislature will be held in December) are remaining.
As expected, the agitation has torn the state’s social fabric very prominently. Since Marathas want a share in the Other Backward Classes quota, the existing beneficiaries in OBC category have threatened a parallel protest. Not all OBCs are opposed to Marathas and they have supported the Maratha cause. Dalits are angry because the Marathas want the government to amend the act that prevents atrocities against SCs and STs. A section of aggressive Marathas wants the act to be scrapped. However, other demands of Marathas are in tune with needs of larger sections of the society. Caste polarisation is seen wide and clear. A bad sign for the state.
The BJP government thinks that polarization of the OBCs and Dalits against Marathas would help it politically. The Muslims, who abhor BJP because the government refuses to part with a quota on religious grounds, have joined hands with Marathas, thus making the Congress and NCP leaders happy despite the fact that a sizable Marathas are pouring out against Maratha leaders for not doing much for their own community when they were in power for more than 60 years in the state and Centre.
The Maratha organisers, who prefer to remain behind the scenes, have been refusing claims that the movement is purely political in nature. But a larger section of the society, including politicians across party lines, intellectuals and social activists do not buy their version. They say that protest is a fall-out of uneasy feeling that comes when the rulers are thrown out of power. Observers suspect that resourceful Maratha leaders in the erstwhile governments are backing the agitation in all possible ways.
Though the agitation has grown beyond expectations, it would still be premature to underline the benefits that this protest would land for the Marathas. But the community, which always acted as a big brother to other segments of society in hinterlands, may lose in the long term if it continues to lose its liberal orientation. No doubt, politically dominant Marathas have executed their socio-political assertion in an utmost laudable fashion and it has galvanized splinters among itself very effectively, but the side effects of this posturing is detrimental to Marathas, who may not get accepted as all-inclusive leaders in future.
A section of Marathas may not agree with the above point of view, but liberals who wish to maintain the community's modern narration, should speak up now before the agitation goes haywire. Marathas need an agenda that should force the government to act without cutting the protesters to size.
It's high time Marathas avoided creating a further social rift, that, if put in practice, would take away their crucial role. Marathas must bear in mind a socio-political benefit that comes associated with their role of harbingers of progressive outlook. At least, the new crop of leaders that a mega protest has given birth to, should look back to their forefathers' ideology and give it a serious thought before making any untoward move.
The BJP government is willing to negotiate with the protesters, who are adamant that the ruling party must fulfil their demands without discussion. A large section of protesters have decided to deny revenue minister Chandrakant Patil a dialogue with them in Kolhapur.
Are Marathas not prepared to present their demands or they know that some demands like a quota in jobs and education and amendment to atrocities act is difficult for any government to fulfil in any manner?
Thinkers in Marathas, not those who are up to derive political advantage from the movement, should speak up loud and clear, and help their own brethren in tiding over a paradox that the protest may soon create. Thinkers and liberals should put Marathas in a situation wherein they can strongly negotiate with the government without losing the tempo of the agitation that would be remembered for years together for its disciplined character. Need of the hour is an atmosphere of peace and dignity that most of Marathas have been holding very close to their hearts.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org