Holding aloft saffron flags, lakhs of Maratha community members on Wednesday filled Mumbai's streets as they took their battle for reservation in government jobs and education to the Maharashtra capital, throwing traffic haywire and putting the overburdened suburban railway under severe strain.
The metropolis turned into a sea of saffron as members of the politically influential community from different parts of the state converged in Mumbai to press for reservation in government jobs and education among other demands.
The Marathas took out a silent march from Jijamata Udyan in Byculla to Azad Maidan in South Mumbai.
As the agitators assembled at Azad Maidan, Mumbai's protest hotpsot, a few kilometres away, in Vidhan Bhawan, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced his government would extend to the Maratha community the educational concessions currently given to Other Backward Class.
Fadnavis also told the state legislative council that the issue of Maratha reservation has been referred to the Backward Classes Commission (BCC), which shall study the feasibility of granting the quota to the community.
Fadnavis, while speaking in the upper house of the Maharashtra legislature, also said the government has submitted a detailed affidavit with concrete supporting documents and fielded a battery of best lawyers to argue the case on the Maratha quota issue pending before the court.
"The demand of the Maratha community for reservation has been referred to the Backward Classes Commission (BCC) which shall study the feasibility of granting the quota to the community. It has been asked to expedite the matter at the earliest," he said.
He also said the BJP-led government would form a cabinet sub-committee to review the implementation of various welfare schemes meant for the Maratha community, but stopped short of announcing quotas for them in jobs.
The announcements were made after Fadnavis held a meeting with representatives of the Maratha community, whose demands have received support from almost the entire political spectrum in the state.
A delegation of 40 people, including women, met him at the Vidhan Bhawan this afternoon. The legislature is currently having its monsoon session.
Earlier on Wednesday morning, the Marathas took out their silent march from Jijamata Udyan amid tight security with participants wearing saffron caps and carrying saffron swallowtail flags.
Police and traffic personnel were deployed in large numbers to manage the huge inflow of people and the movement of vehicles in Mumbai.
Mumbai's famed 'Dabbawalas' (lunchbox deliverymen), majority of whom hail from the Maratha community, also joined the march.
This was the 58th march of the community and was held exactly a year after the first such protest in Aurangabad. The march was organised by the Sakal Maratha Samaj, an umbrella organisation of several Maratha groups.
According to police, around 3 lakh people took part in the protest march.
These 'mook morcha', or silent rallies, were held in various parts of the state following the brutal rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl, belonging to the Maratha community, at Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district in July 2016.
The rally ended at Azad Maidan after covering a distance of 10km. At the venue, the campaigners raised slogans as Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar reached the site. Some said they don't want politicians to interfere.
Shelar rubbished reports he was stopped and manhandled at Azad Maidan.
In the legislature, lawmakers cutting across party lines shouted slogans demanding quota for the Marathas.
Social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter were used to mobilise the community members, the organisers said.
See more glimpses of the Maratha rally:
(Click next to view more images)
Quotas for Marathas, a politically influential community that constitutes around 30 per cent of the state's population, has been a hugely contentious issue.
The Bombay high court had in 2014 disallowed 16 per cent reservation for them in government services and educational institutions.
In 2003-04, National Commission for Backward Classes rejected the demand for including Maratha community in the category of Other Backward Class (OBC) category.
Earlier, 1980 Mandal Commission had noted that the Maratha community is a forward class in Maharashtra.
The Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission had held in 2008 that 'Marathas are both economically and politically a forward caste. They never faced social stigma to invite the backward class status'.