Attempts to consolidate the Marathas in the state to highlight the unrest among the community is leading to new political realignments with Other Backward Communities (OBCs) and Dalits coming together in Maharashtra. Almost 45 days after the Kopardi rape incident in which a 14-year-old was brutally killed, the Maratha community has taken to the streets in Osmanabad, Aurangabad and Jalna districts.
The silent protests under local Maratha banners are promising many more mega-rallies across Marathwada, Western Maharashtra, Vidarbha, North Maharashtra and Konkan in the coming days. The question many are asking is, who is the real force behind these rallies?
At the outset, neither the Congress nor the NCP have owned these rallies. The banners used are of Maratha Kranti Morcha, Maratha Brigade etc. Yet, the rallies are extremely well-planned with large participation of professionals and women. Only water and biscuits are being served at the rallies. “A handful of powerful Maratha leaders who for decades controlled the cooperative sector and banks are trying to flash the Maratha card to cover up their corruption as they are facing probe. The maximum number of cooperative banks and societies are under NCP’s control,” said Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh chief Prakash Ambedkar. “NCP president Sharad Pawar is whipping the Maratha and Muslim card ahead of the local bodies’ elections to revive the organisation.”
He, however, had a word of caution. “It is leading to greater consolidation of the Marathas (33 per cent) versus OBCs/Dalits/rest (77 per cent). The rallies are widening the wedge between the Marathas and Dalits/OBCs. Within the Marathas too, there will be a divide between urban and rural Marathas,” he said.
The pattern adopted by the local Maratha organisations appears uniform. “The local Maratha organisations, which are the fronts, announce their plans, which is circulated in the media. But there are powerful political leaders who are providing the logistics to unite the Marathas through great planning,” said a senior leader who was part of a rally in Aurangabad.
State NCP president Sunil Tatkare, however, said, “The NCP has no role in the rallies. But the massive turnout shows the anger in the community. And the government should take note of the unrest and act.”
“The NCP will never exploit the Kopardi case to further its politics. There are many failures of the government on which we can politically outsmart it,” he added. But what remains unexplained is Pawar’s statement that the Atrocities Act needs a relook. It is being perceived by his critics as a move to express his solidarity with the pro-Maratha movement. However, a day later, the NCP justified the Atrocities Act in the interest of Dalits. “At Aurangabad, NCP and Sena leaders were seen extending their support to the rally,” said Congress MLA Abdul Sattar, adding that mixing social issues for politics would not auger well for society. Similar sentiments were expressed by another senior Congress leader Madhukar Chavan. “We should guard against caste polarisation,” he said.
Political managers in the Congress-NCP argued that “the Kopardi rape was just a trigger as the girl belonged to Maratha community. But there has been unrest as those who control cooperatives are for the first time being questioned by the BJP-led government. There are poor Marathas who feel they should also get reservation like Dalits/ OBCs in education and jobs”.