Home / Politics / Policy /  Maratha protest march in Nagpur turns out to be a damp squib

Mumbai: The much-hyped Maratha silent march in Nagpur on Wednesday turned out to be a no-show. Police said only 15,000 people turned up for the protest that organizers Sakal Maratha Samaj had claimed would draw 2.5 million.

At the end of the march, a delegation of organizers and Maratha girls met chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

Their top demand remains death penalty for those guilty of raping and killing a Maratha girl at Kopardi in July. Fadnavis told the delegation that the government supported this demand and that the case would be heard by a specially appointed fast-track court every day from 20 December.

On the other demand, for Maratha quotas in government-run and aided educational institutions and government jobs, Fadnavis said the government had already filed a comprehensive affidavit in the Bombay high court supporting such reservation.

“It is a legal and constitutional matter and the state government is doing everything it can to make a strong case for Maratha quota," Fadnavis told the delegation, according to a BJP legislator who was present and who requested anonymity.

Marathas have also called for ending alleged “misuse" of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to “implicate" Maratha caste members in fake cases of atrocities against Dalits and tribals.

Fadnavis said a committee of experts has been formed to study the matter.

“We had made preparations in anticipation of at least a million people. But barely 15,000 turned up," said a senior police officer in Nagpur. This officer, who did not wish to be named, said the Intelligence Bureau in Nagpur told him only 12,000 people participated.

The low turnout surprised organizers and politicians alike since this was a state-wide protest called in Nagpur especially because the Maharashtra legislature is in its winter session in the town. In fact, 157 Maratha legislators from different political parties took part in the protest.

A BJP legislator, who took the initiative of getting all Maratha legislators to attend and who requested anonymity, said the fiasco “could be a result of apathy in Vidarbha towards the Marathas in western Maharashtra and Marathwada regions".

“Vidarbha is dominated more by OBCs (other backward classes) and Kunbis who do not sympathize much with the Maratha demands. In fact, to involve people from the Kunbi caste, we had renamed the Nagpur protest as Maratha-Kunbi Kranti Morcha, but this trick does not seem to have worked," said the BJP legislator.

He also held currency shortage as one of the factors responsible for the indifferent response. “Attending such protests is also a logistical exercise and involves cash transactions, like arranging transport, refreshments, etc. People have little cash to dispense with after demonetization," said the BJP MLA.

Since 9 August when the first silent march was held in Aurangabad, the Marathas have held more than 50 protests across the state with most of them witnessing turnouts upwards of 100,000. Some of the marches, like those in Pune and Ahmednagar, drew more than half a million people, according to the organizers and local news reports.

Kishore Shitole, a member of the Sakal Maratha Samaj, who took part in the protest, said the turnout was low “probably because the organizers themselves had asked women not to participate"

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