Mumbai: The bandh called by Maratha organizations on Wednesday in the cities of Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane witnessed several incidents of violence, arson and stone-pelting, causing road blockades at multiple points and shutting down of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway for more than five hours.

Elsewhere in Maharashtra, the pro-reservation stir turned violent with protesters pelting stones at the police and state transport buses, torching police and private vehicles, and staging angry demonstrations outside government offices and homes of legislators.

Although the Sakal Maratha Samaj, an umbrella organization, on Wednesday afternoon suspended the call for a Mumbai bandh and asked protesters in Thane and Navi Mumbai to follow suit, a large number of protesters remained on the streets in Thane and Navi Mumbai and clashes with police continued till the evening.

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who was the main target of the protesters, appealed for calm and said the Maharashtra government has always been ready for talks with the Maratha community.

The Marathas, who account for 32-35% of Maharashtra’s population, has been on the warpath demanding 16% quota in education and government jobs.

Mumbai remained largely peaceful except for a couple of incidents of attempts to torch BEST buses in Mankhurd and arson in Mulund, while Kalamboli in Navi Mumbai witnessed violent clashes between the protesters and the police for several hours. The protesters torched at least four police vehicles in Kalamboli, blocking the Mumbai-Pune highway for more than five hours. The protesters also pelted police in Kalamboli following which police fired in the air and used tear gas.

In Thane, a violent mob of protesters damaged two buses of Thane Municipal Transport in Vartak Nagar area and after the bandh was called off in Mumbai, an unruly mob pelted the police with stones at Nitin Company area, injuring several police personnel. Road traffic from Mumbai to Thane on the Eastern Express Highway was blocked for several hours after the protesters took to streets. Violence in Navi Mumbai disrupted the Thane-Navi Mumbai suburban railway traffic for some hours.

Virendra Pawar, Mumbai co-ordinator of the Sakal Maratha Samaj, told reporters that the Mumbai bandh was being suspended to allow people to return home from work. Claiming that the bandh was peaceful, Pawar alleged that some vested political interests had tried to turn it violent at places. Asked about violence in other parts of the state including Kalamboli in Navi Mumbai, Pawar said the Samaj would be able to comment only after it has “gathered more information" on reports of violence. But he added that the Samaj coordinators had told protesters in those areas which had reported violence to keep calm.

Pawar said the bandh was totally successful, adding that the Maratha community had demonstrated that bandh in Mumbai could be achieved even without political support. “The Maharashtra government has been cheating and exploiting the Maratha community for the last two years. It is this government which has given stones and sticks in the hands of the Maratha youths and it is responsible for turning the peaceful protest into a violent protest," Pawar said.

Elsewhere in Maharashtra too, the protest turned violent in Satara along the Mumbai-Bengaluru expressway where the district superintendent of police was injured in stone pelting by the protestors. Incidences of arson were also reported from Ahmednagar and Nashi districts.

While the Maratha mobilisation from August 2016 to August 2017 was peaceful during which the community organised 58 silent marches all across the state, the protest in July has been unruly and violent at several places. The community had called for a bandh in the state on July 24 except Mumbai, Pune, Satara, and Solapur districts, to allow the devotees who had gathered at Pandharpur to return home.

After the Maratha organisations threatened that they would not allow the chief minister to perform the traditional puja at Pandharpur if the demand for quota was not immediately granted and recruitment for 72,000 state government jobs was not suspended. Fadnavis called off his visit to Pandharpur citing the safety of around a million devotees and said some organisations were trying to foment trouble that would have jeopardised the safety of devotees. This enraged the Maratha organisations who intensified the protest and resorted to violence at several places, most prominently in Aurangabad district of Marathwada. The protestors escalated the protest also after a Maratha protestor committed suicide in Aurangabad on July 23.

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