Maratha march ends on a happy note after Maharashtra govt ‘accepts demands’
Mumbai: The year-long Maratha caste mobilization in Maharashtra reached a grand conclusion in Mumbai on Wednesday when a delegation of six Maratha girls, who had held talks with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, told a mammoth crowd that the Maharashtra government “had accepted all their demands”.
Though the Maratha Kranti Morcha (Maratha revolutionary march) organizers and members of the delegation did not make it clear, the celebratory mood at the end of the 58th “silent march” indicated that no such marches will be held in future. Before the 58th march, the organizers of the march had put the onus on the Maharashtra government to make sure that this was the last such mass Maratha mobilization. The Marathas account for 32-35% of Maharashtra’s population.
Sadanand More, a Pune-based Maratha scholar and author, said that this could be the last Maratha march. More was a member of an experts’ panel that the Maratha organizations had formed to draft their charter of demands. “The Maratha Kranti Morcha has served its purpose in the sense the Maharashtra government has accepted most of the demands. There is no need to organize a similar march in future because the government is working on both the legal and technical aspects of Maratha reservation. If the style of functioning that Fadnavis has demonstrated so far is any indication, I do not see the need for similar marches in future. There is also a ministerial group that would monitor the progress made on all the demands,” More said.
Asked if he thought that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had “wrapped up” the Maratha mobilization, More said only the critics of the BJP-led government could make this argument.
In July last year, a teenaged Maratha girl was raped and murdered allegedly by three Dalit men in Kopardi village of Ahmednagar district. The three Dalit men have been charged in the case which is being heard in a fast-track court in Ahmednagar. On 9 August 2016, Maratha organizations under the banner of Sakal Maratha Samaj held the first silent march in Marathwada region’s Aurangabad city.
On Wednesday, Fadnavis told the legislative assembly that all facilities and subsidies available to the other backward classes (OBC) students would be made applicable to Maratha students. This would help a million Maratha students secure admission to more than 600 courses, Fadnavis said. The government would also build hostels for Maratha students at each district headquarter and 300,000 jobs would be created by imparting skills to Maratha youths, he added. Fadnavis told the assembly that the Kopardi case was nearing closure and that arguments would soon begin in the fast-track court. On the demand for Maratha reservation, he said the state government had taken a strong legal position in the Bombay high court, which is hearing the case and that the government was also following up the matter with the State Commission for Backward Classes.
Meanwhile, thousands of Marathas holding saffron flags and placards marched to the historic Azad Maidan in south Mumbai on Wednesday in a show of solidarity and discipline. From the Byculla Zoo to Azad Maidan, an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 Marathas, a good number of them women and girls, marched on foot to demand quota in education and jobs, death penalty to the culprits in Kopardi rape and murder case, higher remunerative prices for farm produce, and amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The delegation of Maratha girls, all dressed in black as a mark of protest, later met Fadnavis at the Maharashtra legislature which is in its monsoon session. Fadnavis also roped in opposition leaders like Ajit Pawar, Jayant Patil, and Dhananjay Munde of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Narayan Rane of the Congress. Pawar, Patil, and Rane belong to the Maratha caste while Munde is an OBC politician.
This was, however, not a silent protest like the previous marches and participants as well as organizers shouted slogans in support of their demands. Also unlike previous protests, a few politicians including Chhatrapati Sambhaji Raje, 13th direct descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji and Bharatiya Janata Party MP in Rajya Sabha, were allowed on the stage. Sambhaji Raje, however, made it clear that he was on stage not as an MP or descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji but as an “ordinary Maratha”.