Marathas Take Cue From Jats, Patels!

Massive crowds at Maratha rallies - Sakshi Post

Mahesh Vijapurkar

Marathas comprise the erstwhile warrior class and farmers, not necessarily mutually exclusive, and at the core, and often at the helm, of power structure in Maharashtra. They number about a third of the population. And yet, they have a set of grievances which include not being assigned reservations.

This is ironical, just as the similar demands from Jats and Patels in other states are. Since August Marathas have taken to an unprecedented form of making their demands: in as many as 16 places across the state, they have taken out processions where not a slogan is raised, and not a leader takes to the microphone from a dais. They march in silence with placards demanding quotas, disabling the misuse of the Atrocities Act against them by Dalits, and fast-tracking a gang-rape case in which the victim was a Maratha.

These morchas are unprecedented for several reasons. One, the participation is huge; seeing is believing, though the media surprisingly mentions them as in lakhs in double digits, helping some myth-making. Two, there is no visible sign of any politician or a political party or parties organizing or leading them. Three, in not a single instance have these events lead to a confrontation with the authorities. Nor an untoward incident among themselves. The leaders, as is made out, are amorphous, of akin interest and purpose, apolitical, and the rally dates, timings, locations, routes, arrangements, etc. are conveyed through WhatsApp groups, and each participant promising to mobilise another 100. There are daises but used by black-attired girls to read out the charter which anyhow are on the placards carried. Apparently, the leadership is kept in the background lest the authorities try to create schisms in them, which also points to the community’s trust, or lack thereof, in them.

But political persons are certainly there, providing money, or stuff like bottled waters. Behind the scene, the rivals on the traditional political divides do try to score points, trying to do one better than the other, by which the rallyists only gain.

Maharashtra has seen this pattern of keeping politics out on some crucial issues, like the manner in which Shetkari Sanghatana, put together and led by the late Sharad Joshi. He would start his meetings with an announcement that farmers, with the same problems, cannot be divided on political lines. “When you enter this place, keep your political chappals outside”. However, he had to form a political party, and to get to Rajya Sabha, he used the political parties he derided for support.

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During the early 1980s, the Dalits cut across their divisions within the Republican Party – it has more mutants than any other party in India – and showed their militancy against Marathas for ill-treating them and sought the renaming of Marathwada University after Babasaheb Ambedkar. That was a rare show of unity. Now, Marathas’ charter wants changes in the law so Dalits don’t foist cases on them using the Atrocities Act. Full circle, one can say.

The most curious aspect is the demand for reservations in educational institutions and jobs for the community which always has had political clout. They control virtually all bodies from the rural areas to the state government, though a VP Naik or a SudhakarNaik, both tribals, and Manohar Joshi or Devendra Fadnavis could be a chief minister at times.

It is the politicians from the Maratha community who own and run several money-spinning educational institutions. It is difficult to pinpoint when the Marathas lost the edge to their teeth but over time, they have been feeling left out from the matrix of power and progress, according to them, and in that order. It is as if they wouldn’t mind the bigwigs from their own community to conduct politics as business, perpetuate family control, as long as their other economic interests are taken care of. They have not asked for government takeover of the educational empires or fee concessions.

That is interesting, to say the least.

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