The state government is worried that the agitation may pose a serious threat to it, reports Sanjay Jog.
The massive peaceful protest marches by the Maratha Kranti Manch across Maharashtra has caused unease among the ruling and opposition camps. After initially neglecting the mobilisation, the government and opposition leaders are now participating in the silent marches to express solidarity.
The trigger for the marches was the rape and murder of a Maratha girl at Kopardi, Ahmednagar district, in July. The community's demands include the hanging of the culprits, amending the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to avoid its misuse and implementation of a 16 per cent reservation for the Marathas at the earliest. The government should also pay attention to the plight of farmers who have committed suicide because of successive droughts, they have said. The Marathas are also against the state government's decision to award the prestigious Maharashtra Bhushan to historian Babasaheb Purandare who belongs to the Brahmin community.
The state government is worried that the agitation may pose a serious threat to it. The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party fear agitated Marathas may not forgive them for not doing enough for the community’s progress during their terms. The Congress and the NCP hope to use the agitation as a platform to revive their chances in the local body elections next year, after defeats in the Lok Sabha and the state assembly polls.
Bumpy road ahead
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the government was committed to resolving the issues raised. “The government's view is that the Maratha community should get reservation. Hence, even when there is a stay by the court, our government has passed an act (regarding it).” Fadnavis also announced that the government was trying to empower the community through employment and entrepreneurship. The government has plans to give jobs to 500,000 youth.
Several Bharatiya Janata Party members said options were limited on providing reservation. The Bombay high court had overturned the 16 per cent reservation given by the Congress-NCP government ahead of the assembly polls in 2014.
A senior BJP minister told Business Standard that the government was exploring multiple options. "The government may consider promulgation of an ordinance under Article 16(4) of the Constitution or under 9th Schedule of the Constitution. The state government may urge the Centre to move an amendment to the Constitution to enable quota on the grounds of economic backwardness. The government will have to move quickly," he said.
NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, who denied any involvement in organising these marches, courted controversy for his statement that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act be scrapped. However, he clarified that he meant the act be amended. He also added he had come across cases where upper caste members filed cases under the act to settle scores.
Pawar’s statement attracted strong criticism from the Republican Party of India Chief Ramdas Athavale who announced that Dalits would take out marches to counter the mobilisation by Marathas. However, he clarified he was in favour of providing reservation to Marathas.
BJP’s ally Shiv Sena has not yet made its plans clear. Sena President Uddhav Thackeray has been consistently demanding that a special session of the state legislature and Parliament be summoned to discuss the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and also for reservation to Marathas.
IMAGE: Maratha community members hold a protest rally demanding reservation and justice for Kopardi rape victim in Buldhana district of Maharashtra. Photograph: PTI Photo