The series of morchas by Marathas, witnessed in over a dozen towns across Maharashtra, are silent and peaceful, the demands voiced only through placards and petitions handed over to district collectors. They are spectacular too and with good reason.
This is perhaps the only such big mobilisation of a single community the state has seen. They are larger by any yardstick compared to the Dalit morchas which led to the renaming of the Marathwada University after Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. They too were non-violent, but the undertone was militant.
The turnout at each rally has been overestimated by the media, as being in the tens of lakhs, but the reality is that while the numbers are huge, they're certainly not that huge. The angst of the Maratha youth is probably because of being left out from the traditional dominant place in society. They belonged to the elite, and now are seeking supportive discrimination.
The question that eludes a response as of now is whether the demands of modifying – meaning weakening – the Atrocities Act in force since 1989 which protects Dalits against discrimination by word and or deed, and whether quotas for the community would be met in full or part.
Diluting the Act which protects the Dalits, and which the Dalits say is not being adequately enforced, is going to be hard because seeking to douse an issue in one state, cannot find acceptance across the country. The Act is a central legislation applicable to all states and Dalits are not yet equals in the society.
Quotas have been rejected by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court has turned its face away. If they were brought in, it would be by reducing the share of the OBCs who, as of now, are quiet. Like the Dalit groupings are about the demand for modifying it to avoid ‘misuse’, impression is that personal scores are being settled by threat of invoking the Act.
The other question is who is going to benefit by this unprecedentedly massive mobilisation? The morchas have been deliberately kept faceless and apolitical. It is not any political party's baby as emphasised time and again. After flexing its numerical muscle, they are unlikely to quietly evict themselves from the scene.
Political leaders may not be at the forefront of the rallies but they certainly are at the back of it, both literally and figuratively. The rallies may be attended by circulation of messages on social media but the logistics bear the mark of experienced political hands. It costs a pretty penny. At the Nashik preparatory meeting, Maratha leaders – politicians or businessmen – committed support in cash and kind.
But this class is unlikely to remain in the background for long. The itch to hog the limelight has been reported from Pune. “Political leaders, who joined the Maratha community's march on Sunday in the city and tried to hog the limelight with television cameras panning over to them, found themselves in a spot.”
Politicians, regardless of which party they are from, do not provide free lunches.
“People hooted and organisers repeatedly announced that the march had been put together by the community and political leaders must not try to pretend they have a role in this show of strength.” But they have had a role. In Thane on Sunday, the politicians were present, as Loksatta reported, at the preparatory meeting for the rally next month.
The Indian Express has named two leading Ahmednagar politicians, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, Congress, and his local rival, Balasaheb Thorat, both Marathas, as being involved in managing the logistics. Why are the politicians as silent as the morcha-participants? When would they stop walking at the end of the procession – so humiliating! – and claim credit? They don’t like being shown their place as an equal.
Quotas are to mainstream the deprived and the backward because they have no means to compete with the others, and cost of education is a major reason why many are deprived of good education, and thus, good paying jobs. It is ironical that most of the private educational institutions are owned and run by Maratha politicians who also hold a leverage in government – local to Centre.
The conversion of providing education has been nicely turned into a business, the fulcrum of which is political connections. They have sold seats at absurd prices, and controlling them has not been easy, and if a sincere government – a big if, that is – wants to curb their ways, it would pay a political price. The morcha has not demanded making easier access to education, which is curious.