Around two million supporters of Maharastra's former deputy chief minister and senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Chhagan Bhujbal took to the streets of Nashik on Monday seeking his release from jail.
Bhujbal, who is also the president of the Akhil Bharatiya Mahatma Phule Samata Parishad — an all-India Other Backward Caste (OBC) organisation — was arrested on 14 March in connection with several cases pertaining to alleged corruption, money-laundering and land deals and has remained in custody since.
The protesters, sporting masks and T-shirts with Bhujbal's pictures, carried banners and placards demanding his release from custody and an end to political conspiracies and what they called a witchunt by state and central investigating agencies against him.
The organisers claimed the support of several senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, including former state minister Eknath Khadse, Minister of State for Home Ram Shinde and Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde, in their capacity as OBC leaders, besides the supporters of late Gopinath Munde.
The pictures of these leaders — without indicating party affiliation — were prominently put up at various spots along the route of the procession, but both Khadse and Munde did not personally join the marchers, said Bhujbal's spokesperson Deepak Gangurde.
After Bhujbal's arrest in March, OBC politics had almost been pushed to the back-burner and he was virtually forgotten by his followers. But the success of ongoing agitation by the Maratha community over the past one month — and his upcoming birthday on 15 October — prompted his supporters to announce a massive procession.
Last month, several top BJP, NCP and OBC leaders started calling on the ailing Bhujbal, who is convalescing in Sir JJ Hospital, and the route map for Monday's mammoth event was reportedly chalked out as a "birthday present".
The seven-km-long procession in torrential rain, saw participation of representatives and supporters from various OBC groups and organisations across India and later full clean-up operations were conducted.
A delegation went to the collector and submitted a memorandum addressed to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, raising several demands of the OBCs as a show of strength and support for the jailed two-time deputy chief minister who enjoyed a close personal rapport with Gopinath Munde.
Maratha agitation: Village renames itself Marathanagar
On Monday, the Maratha community took out a huge silent march — 'Maratha Kranti Muk Morcha' in Satara in western Maharashtra.
Lakhs of members of the community, which is predominant in the state politics, from Satara district and adjoining cities such as Pune, Solapur, Sangli and Kolhapur flocked to the city.
Gundewadi village in Khatav taluka of the district renamed itself to 'Marathanagar' after the gram panchayat of the village passed a resolution. The resolution was passed unanimously by the villagers, which will now go to the Zilla Parishad and the state government for approval.
Maratha community has been taking out silent marches across the state.
Demands of the community include reservations, scrapping of SC/ST Atrocities Act and speedy trial in Kopardi case where a Maratha girl was raped and murdered.
With inputs from agencies