Mumbai: Nearly two years after the Maratha community launched a peaceful protest for quotas, some of its members turned to violence, arson and stone-pelting in parts of Marathwada and western Maharashtra on July 24 during a statewide shutdown.
Mumbai, Pune, Satara and Solapur were excluded from the shutdown but, pressing their demand further, Maratha organizations called for a bandh in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Palghar and Raigad districts on Wednesday.
On Sunday, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis cancelled a planned visit to Pandharpur after Maratha organizations threatened to disrupt a puja on the occasion of Aashadhi Ekadashi in the temple town. Fadnavis’s statement that some “organizations and parties were trying to create trouble in Pandharpur” angered Maratha outfits, who responded with Tuesday’s bandh.
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Maharashtra revenue minister Chandrakant Patil urged the community to call off the bandh and weed out “paid protesters” who he alleged had crept in to engage in violence. Patil, a Maratha, said the state government could do nothing about the quota since the case was before the Bombay high court.
Several places in Marathwada saw violent clashes between Maratha protesters and the police. In Aurangabad, the largest city in Marathwada, police constable Shyam Katgaonkar died of a heart attack while tackling a violent mob. Protesters torched two fire tenders at Kaygaon in Aurangabad district and attacked the police, grievously injuring a constable.
The Sakal Maratha Samaj, an umbrella organization spearheading the protest, condemned Fadnavis’s statement, and called for a Maharashtra bandh, sparing Mumbai, Pune, Satara and Solapur to allow the devotees to return home from Pandharpur. Maratha organizations also demanded Fadnavis’s resignation. Fadnavis came in for attack on social media as well, with several Maratha organizations accusing the chief minister of trying to add the “poison of caste” in “progressive Maharashtra’s” social fabric. Significantly, Fadnavis is only the second Brahmin chief minister of Maharashtra after Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi during 1995-1999.
Marathas account for 32-35% of the state’s population and a majority of Maharashtra chief ministers and senior ministers have been from this community. Their demands include a 16% quota in educational institutions and government jobs, an amendment to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to prevent its misuse against Marathas, and a complete farm loan waiver.