Rajat Sharma


AKB30 The state-wide agitation for Maratha OBC reservation quota has intensified across Maharashtra with protest rallies being held in Pune, Nagpur, Nashik and several other district towns. The stir has now spread to rural areas. The leader of the agitation Manoj Jarange on Wednesday night turned down an all-party appeal to call off his ‘fast unto death’, saying that the agitation has already reached a ‘do or die’ situation and he would not step back at any cost. Jarange said his indefinite hunger strike will continue till the entire Maratha community is recognized as Kunbi and included in OBC category for reservation. A Maratha youth Sumit Mane, who was handed over the first Kunbi certificate by Dharashiv district collector, came out of the collectorate and set the certificate on fire in front of a crowd. On Wednesday, Maratha protesters blocked the Nashla-Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar Road in Yeola taluka and the Solapur-Nanded highway by setting tyres on fire. Similar road blockades were organized in Jalna and Hingoli. All internet services were suspended in nine tehsils of Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar district for 48 hours in the wake of arson, protests and rioting in rural areas of the district over the last two days. Already, internet has been suspended in Beed and Jalna districts since Tuesday after large-scale violence. Section 144 prohibitory order has been clamped indefinitely in Sambhajinagar, Beed, Dharashiv and Nanded districts. Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has sought more time to fulfil Jarange’s demand after an all-party meeting on Wednesday. The all-party meeting adopted a resolution in favour of Maratha reservation, but said it should have legal standing and all parties should cooperate in this endeavour. It also condemned large-scale violence that has taken place since Monday. At the all-party meeting, NCP chief Sharad Pawar suggested that the state government should fix all legal loopholes and fulfil necessary conditions to avoid quashing of its decision in the Supreme Court. Eknath Shinde said, his government wants to give “permanent reservation” to Maratha community, but it requires times and patience. NCP-Ajit faction leader Chhagan Bhujbal said at the meeting that while giving OBC reservation to Marathas, care must be taken to ensure that the claims of other OBC communities are not affected adversely. Manoj Jarange rejected the all-party appeal saying he had already given 40 days’ time, and it is up to the chief minister to come and tell what his government did in the last 40 days. He demanded that a special assembly session be called and a bill granting OBC status to entire Maratha community be adopted. Meanwhile, on the ground level, reports about arson and violence have stopped coming in after the state administration has taken a hard stance after suspension of internet services. The state government has filed more than 141 FIRs and arrested 164 agitators. Manoj Jarange is angry and has demanded their release. He says, Marathas are fighting for their rights, and acts of violence are being engineered to bring a bad name to the agitation. Political leaders in Maharashtra have been saying all along that quota issue should not be politicized, but the same leaders are doing politics over this issue. It is true Eknath Shinde government had sought 30 days’ time from Jarange, and he was given 40 days’ time, but Shinde could not adhere to the timeline. He also delayed calling the all-party meeting. Had he called the meeting earlier, violence could have been avoided. It is also true that Sharad Pawar and his party leaders are trying to fan the agitation over Maratha reservation issue. Their aim is to put the Centre in a bind. Leaders of Sharad Pawar’s party have been time and again saying that only Centre can grant OBC status to Maratha community. There is a two-fold move behind this. Sharad Pawar and his faction leaders are eyeing 15 per cent Maratha vote bank. In the last two days, they have realized that too much emphasis on Marathas could also cause reactions among other backward castes, who number more than 50 per cent. Politically, 50 per cent voters cannot be kept unhappy while seeking the support of 15 per cent voters. Already, other backward caste leaders have started demanding their share of the reservation pie. The entire issue has now become vexed and complicated. Eknath Shinde lacks the expertise and experience to resolve this ticklish issue. He is trying to gain time by shelving the matter. Already, it is too late and the problem cannot be brushed under the carpet.

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