Dharmendra Jore: The other side of the Maratha agitation
What started with a specific purpose of quota, is now being exploited as a political tool ahead of the 2019 elections
The Maratha agitation which has turned from its silent version into a violent avatar, is now a potent political event, being systematically used by opposition parties and adversaries of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis within the BJP.
Though it was called an apolitical event with a collective leadership, the only question that haunted one's mind was about the timing of its transformation into a political event. One of the facts remains, that a case in the Bombay High Court, and a delay in submission of a recommendation by the backward class commission, have proved to be the trigger for violence that has rocked the state. The agitation continues in some parts of the state as Maratha Sakal Samaj's leadership is not unified in its pursuit and approach.
The fact that the high court will decide the case notwithstanding, several other methods are being suggested to grant the Maratha community a 16% quota in jobs and education. One such suggestion is to amend the Constitution, a tough call given by NCP boss and Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar. Another way suggested is to legislate an amended law in the state legislature, which the government has accepted once it gets the backward class commission's report.
Marathas vs the rest
Doubts continue to prevail among non-Maratha communities as to whether their quota will be compromised to accommodate Marathas because they say the reservation cannot exceed a constitutional cap of 50%. But since in some states it goes beyond the cap, the Marathas want a separate category for themselves. The other backward classes (OBCs) have started consolidating themselves on various platforms to ensure their right. A massive conclave of restive OBCs in Maharashtra will be held next month.
Social polarisation was seen soon after Marathas started their silent protest two years ago after the gang rape of a Maratha minor girl in Kopardi. The quota demand became prominent even as the Kopardi issue was settled and the convicts punished. What was then Marathas versus the scheduled castes, has now become Marathas versus all.
Politically dominant yet affected by financial inequality, the Maratha protesters hadn't allowed the established Maratha leadership to take control of the silent agitation because of a strong resentment that the leaders who had served the top offices in the government hadn't been able to get a quota approved for their own. The practice has changed of late.
The community's 'socially boycotted' leaders are now actively supporting the cause. Some MLAs have sent their resignation papers to the Speaker.
Sharad Pawar participated in a sit-in agitation in Kolhapur where he suggested a Constitutional amendment and volunteered to convince all parties in the Parliament to vote in favour of Marathas.
CM, the real target
Every agitation has its strengths and weaknesses. The Marathas had won the hearts of people through silent protests, and when they realised that violence would brush off the good image, they withdrew the agitation in cities like Mumbai. The weakness of their protest is that it does not have a unified command. The fragmented leadership is exploited by both ruling and opposition parties in cornering Fadnavis, who has emerged as BJP's sole face in Maharashtra post 2014 elections. It is evident that the CM's adversaries within and outside the BJP are desperately trying to use the Maratha protest to oust him from the 6th floor of Mantralaya.
Fadnavis has had a smooth sailing so far on other fronts, and he knew for sure that the Maratha issue would be a tough challenge for him. He has won BJP a maximum number of elections after assuming the office, with a notable exception being the Lok Sabha bypoll debacle in Bhandara-Gondia which had showcased the opposition unity.
The recent developments have vividly exposed Fadnavis to the factionalism in BJP, especially the remarkable effort of the Maratha leaders to isolate him. The state BJP leadership headed by a Maratha did not bother to speak for Fadnavis in a time of crisis. The Maratha ministers and MLAs failed to defend the government. A senior cabinet colleague, who considers himself a CM in the making, did make a series of statements that created more controversies instead of pacifying the Marathas. A non-Maratha who sees herself as a saviour of OBCs, said she could have cleared the Maratha reservation file in an hour if she were the CM. She did not forget to clarify that the court case was a real hurdle even as she made her political ambition public yet again.
Meanwhile, experts see no firm resolution coming up as early as possible, because of various intricate factors involved the cause that Marathas are fighting for.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
Catch up on all the latest Mumbai news, crime news, current affairs, and also a complete guide on Mumbai from food to things to do and events across the city here. Also download the new mid-day Android and iOS apps to get latest updates
Atal Bihari Vajpayee's daughter, granddaughter arrive at Smriti Sthal to collect ashes