Why the Maratha agitation has put BJP in a fix
After the upper caste Patidar movement in Gujarat, now the Maratha community has risen in protest in Maharashtra. This silent and leaderless movement of Marathas, which started after the brutal gang rape and murder of a minor girl in Ahmadnagar, has expanded to other parts of the state, so far around 12 big rallies have taken place and another 10 are scheduled until the end of this month.
The silent rallies have seen soaring crowds, some estimates say that places like Marathwada have witnessed a crowd of over 10 lakh. The final rally, which is scheduled to be held in Mumbai will see more than 20 lakh people, the organisers claimed.
Their initial demand was a death penalty to accused of the gang rape who happen to be from the Dalit community. But later their demands expanded as the movement grew, now they are asking for the scrapping of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act and reservation for Marathas in education and government jobs.
This movement looks like the replica of the Patidar stir in Gujarat, barring that, unlike Hardik Patel emerging as the leader of the community in Gujarat, here the rallies are led without a leader and are peaceful in nature. It is believed that a leaderless movement will keep the community united as there are internal feuds within the community and it was difficult to choose a leader without creating internal fissures.
All this has put Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in a fix, who in a show of desperate act gave an hour-long interview to Doordarshan blaming the Opposition for creating this trouble. He also said for years the Maratha elites have enjoyed power, but neglected the demands of economically backward in the community. The Opposition has accused the government of not handling the drought situation, which ultimately affected the agrarian Maratha community.
In what could be seen as the biggest trouble for the government is the plan to take out counter rallies by Dalit group, who will vehemently oppose any demand to scrap reservations given to them and the SC/ST Atrocities Prevention Act.
If this happens, it would be the tedious job for the government to handle the situation. The Dalits in the state have already voted for the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party in the past, the Bharatiya Janta Party has tried to woo Dalit voters recently and their only prize catch has been Ramdas Athawle of the Republican Party of India, who became their ally and at present holds the post of a state minister.
In either case, they cannot afford to disappoint the Maratha voters who form 33 percentage of total votes in the state and the community has voted largely for the saffron outfit in the last Assembly elections.
Upper caste mobilisation in BJP-ruled states like Maharashtra and Gujarat signifies something, this depicts the contradiction in BJP politics, which is ideologically Brahminical but at the same time is trying to woo Dalits and other backward voters as a pragmatic effort to win the elections. This paradox in their politics is leading to agitations like that of the Patidars and now Marathas. No wonder, if things continue to go like this, there will caste wars fought on the streets of India.
The BJP, at the moment, despite winning the 2014 Lok Sabha election with a huge mandate, looks to be sailing in rough waters in states like Gujarat, its stronghold where both upper caste and lower castes have mobilised against the government, leaving it clueless of which direction to move. It cannot afford to offend any of them. A similar situation might arise in Maharashtra if Dalits also rise in counter protest against the Maratha agitation.
It is clear that contradictions in BJP politics have caused dissent both among the upper caste and lower castes and with time, it will only grow and intensify.