The Maratha Surajya Sangh, an organisation working for the welfare of Maratha community, has announced that they will hold rallies in three districts in the Konkan region on 27 September to press for various demands.
"We have named this silent rally as 'Maratha Kranti Morcha' and it would be held on 27 September in three districts — Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg. The objective is to sensitise the government and other machinery about our demands," state head of the organisation, Pranay Sawant said.
He holds Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar responsible for the "plight" of the community, which comprises "33 percent of the total population" in the state.
"Pawar is responsible for the backwardness of the community, which comprises one third population of the state. Despite being the most influential leader, he did nothing for his own brothers and the demand for Maratha reservation took a backseat under his regime," he alleged.
National Congress Party president Sharad Pawar, was one of the first few to back the demand to scrap the SC/ST Act, saying “it could not be ignored”.
He told The Indian Express that behind the Maratha anger was "the BJP government’s failure to tackle agricultural problems", and the government's inaction on the demand for reservation by the community.
Former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, also a Maratha leader, said that the government should have taken the Maratha reservation process to its logical end, which is causing unrest in the state.
The community, which is dominant in Maharashtra politics, has been taking out silent marches in various towns in the state over the last one month, following the alleged rape and murder of a girl in Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district, two months ago. The victim was a Maratha, while the accused were Dalits.
The community leaders have been demanding the scrapping of the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, saying it is grossly misused, and also the reservations for Marathas in educational institutes and government jobs.
On 3 September, lakhs of people attended the rally at Parbhani and silently protested against the rape and murder of the 14-year-old Maratha girl that happened on 13 July.
Similar silent protests were held in Jalna and Latur on Tuesday, reportedly attended by several lakhs of people.
A report by The Indian Express suggests that the Maratha anger stems from the belief that they are losing out on jobs, education prospects and their political clout because of SC/ST and OBC reservation.
The Marathas constitute a huge chunk of population in Maharashtra. With around 33 percent of the vote bank, they are a decisive political force in the state.
Alarmed by a slew of rallies by the Marathas, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that his government was taking steps to resolve "various social issues" concerning the politically powerful community.
The rallies have assumed significance in the view of forthcoming elections to civic bodies in state.
"The government has taken a serious note of the morchas being taken out across the state. The morchas are a reflection of the pent up resentment of many years within the Maratha community," Fadnavis told Maratha leaders.
Assuring the community that government was positive towards their demands, the CM said more consultations will be held with legislators, senior leaders, senior officers in the administration, various social organisations and student bodies.
"The government is taking steps to resolve various social issues of the community through dialogue without creating any caste tensions," he said.
Maharashtra BJP President Raosaheb Danve too chimed in and said that the government was in agreement with the various demands of the Maratha community.
"There is no cause for anyone to oppose the demands of the community," he said.
Reports emerged that the BJP is dealing cautiously given that elections to major municipal corporations are due soon.
Another prominent Maratha leader and BJP MLC Vinayak Mete said that the morchas being taken out by the community across were not against the Dalits.
However, to counter rallies by Marathas, many Dalit organisations have begun staging morchas in Nanded and other parts of the state.
Mete clarified that the rallies held by Marathas are not led by any political party or leader. "It would be wrong to say that these morchas are being sponsored by the NCP," he said.
Referring to the SC/ST Atrocities Act, the Shiv Sangram organisation leader said Dalit icon Ambedkar had guaranteed the right to air one's opinion on any Act if its provisions are hurting someone.
Earlier, Bharipa-Bahujan Mahasangh leader and Ambedkar's grandson Prakash Ambedkar urged the Dalit community to exercise restraint and to not carry out any counter morchas. "RSS is deliberately trying to mislead Dalit community by arguing that the morchas being taken out by the Maratha community are against them."
Hinting that some disgruntled Maratha leaders could be behind organising the rallies, Ambedkar said, "The heat of the government probe into cooperative sector is being felt by some. A handful of 159 families control cooperative sector, whereas others from Maratha community have no toehold in cooperative sector."
With inputs from agencies