Mumbai: The 'silent marches' taken out by Maratha Kranti Morcha around Maharashtra to highlight demands like reservation in jobs and education have created ripples in state politics, with major players adopting a "wait and watch" approach to see if the massive mobilisation will eventually assume electoral dimensions.
Observers say that all main parties — BJP, Congress, Shiv Sena and NCP — are unnerved by the huge success of the rallies, highlighting demands like reservation in job and education, though the immediate trigger being the rape and murder of a girl from the community at Kopardi in Ahmednagar.
They, however, feel it is too early to jump to the conclusion that the movement will lead to political changes.
According to Venkatesh Patil, journalist and author of "Maratha Reservation — Role and Reality", the campaign is an opportunity for BJP to consolidate its Maratha vote base by bringing the community under the ambit of reservation.
"It is not to say Maratha leaders of congress or NCP have not done anything. The present ruling leadership cannot wash off its hands. The BJP is wasting the opportunity if it fails to turn the situation in its advantage," Patil told PTI.
"A Brahmin Chief Minister (Devendra Fadnavis) addressing the grievances of the Maratha community is a good message in the long run. BJP should also groom a Maratha leader with a good mass base," he said.
Patil observes that the "silent and disciplined agitation" has given a new model for the state about how a non-violent morcha can be mobilised.
Instead of dismissing it as politically-motivated, the government should see the wider social issues raised by the movement, he said.
The issue will not be resolved until there is a constitutional amendment (to the quota regime) and Marathas are included as OBCs.
"Right now, political parties cannot touch SC/ST/OBC quota and the government is unlikely to consider the demand going by the constitutional provisions," Patil said.
As per the Supreme Court ruling, reservation cannot exceed 50 per cent and at present the state has 52 per cent reservation, he said.
Shiv Sena's stand of economic reservation has incensed the Maratha Kranti Morcha, Patil said.
"There is a feeling that the Sena's stand is to ensure Marathas do not get reservation. There is no constitutional provision for economic reservation," he said, adding this approach can cost it politically.
Shiv Sena, however, has demanded a special sitting of the state legislature to seriously look into the issues raised by the Maratha morcha. Party chief Uddhav Thackeray had called on the chief minister and put across the demand.
Balasaheb Sarate, scholar and researcher of Maratha issues, said the predominantly agricultural community has been hit by liberalisation and globalisation with the adverse effects they bought on the farm sector in the last 25 years.
This has pushed the Marathas to a sense of social insecurity and isolation, he said.
On the economic, social, educational and emotional state of the community, another observer said even though some Marathas are landlords, 70 per cent of the members of that community own maximum 1 hectare and 20 per cent are landless.
Education of children of Marathas in rural areas had suffered and there is no opportunity to come up on merit and the fees in private institutions are too high, while certain sections of the society get a fee waiver as well as opportunities to gain admission in quota as well as merit.
Sarate says the Marathas are worst affected in Marathwada region, where they comprise 45 per cent of the population.
In North Maharashtra, subcastes like Leva Patils and Leva Patidars while Kunbis in Vidarbha are included as OBCs and get reservation benefits. But, in Marathwada, the Maratha community has no benefit.
In Vidarbha, North Maharashtra and Western Maharashtra, sections of the Marathas come under OBC category, since the communities eligible for reservation are often identified on the basis of traditional occupations, like farm work.
Marathwada was in the past ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad and so the land records describe them as only Marathas.
Political and administrative machinery have proved inadequate to address these issues, forcing the Marathas to highlight these issues and find out ways to pursue them.
However, the alleged rape and murder of a minor girl from the community at Kopardi, became the trigger for the silent morchas all over the state.