Mumbai/Pune, Jan 25 (PTI) As activist Manoj Jarange headed towards Mumbai with thousands of supporters to push for reservation for the Maratha community, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde on Thursday sought to pacify him, saying his government was committed to fulfil his demand without touching the existing quotas of other social groups.
Speaking at Lonavala, a hill town in Pune district located around 130km from Mumbai, Jarange appealed to Shinde and his deputies to come together and resolve the issue of Maratha quota, an emotive issue which has been dominating the state's political discourse for the last few months.
Jarange said two official delegations met him earlier in the day, but they had nothing new to offer and added they were deliberating on the “same old points”.
The 40-year-old activist, who set out on a march towards Mumbai from Jalna district on January 20 with thousands of supporters, is demanding that the state government grant quota to Marathas under the OBC grouping in jobs and education.
“We have not come here for fun. On behalf of the Maratha community, I appeal to CM Ekanth Shinde and deputy CMs Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar to come together for a discussion and find an amicable solution to the issue,” he said.
Addressing his supporters at Lonavala, Jarange asked them to keep calm and not get provoked, insisting theirs is a peaceful protest.
The activist has announced the launch of an indefinite hunger strike in Mumbai from January 26 if the state government fails to grant the reservation to Marathas in government jobs and education.
He claimed on Wednesday that 54 lakh records have been found in Maharashtra so far identifying members of the Maratha community as Kunbi (an OBC sub-caste) and demanded immediate issuance of caste certificates.
Kunbis enjoy reservation in government jobs and admissions to educational institutes under the OBC category.
Talking to reporters at his ancestral village in Satara district, Chief Minister Shinde reiterated his government was committed to providing reservation to Marathas without disturbing the existing quotas of other communities.
He said the authorities were working expeditiously to complete the survey to prove the social and educational backwardness of the Maratha community.
"My government will give reservation which will pass the legal scrutiny. A total of 1.4 lakh people are participating in the survey that is currently underway. They are working in three shifts. So far, discussions with Jarange have been positive," the CM said.
Urging Jarange and other members of the Maratha community not to launch protests, Shinde said, "Agitations are okay if the government is not responsive, but our government is responsive and hence they should not agitate." The CM had last month said a special session of the state legislature would be held in February, if necessary, to provide reservation to the Maratha community.
An estimated 12,000 people and 3,000 vehicles were part of Jarange's rally in Lonavala.
The march will enter Navi Mumbai on Thursday night and then move towards Mumbai city, around 50km away, via Kon village-Palaspe-Gavhan Phata-Ulwe-Belapur-Palm Beach Road and APMC Vashi route on early Friday morning, a police official said.
Considering the large number of agitators, the Navi Mumbai police have banned the entry of heavy vehicles in the satellite city.
The Mumbai police on Thursday issued a notice to Jarange, saying no ground in the city can accommodate the large number of protesters accompanying him, and advised him to hold his agitation in Navi Mumbai instead.
While Jarange wants to hold his protest at Azad Maidan, a designated site for agitations in south Mumbai, police suggested that he settle for International Corporate Park in Kharghar area of Navi Mumbai.
The activist should adhere to directives passed by the Supreme Court and Bombay High Court from time to time regarding the conduct of agitations, and if the protesters failed to follow them, it will be considered a contempt of court, said the notice issued by the senior inspector of the Azad Maidan Police Station.
When asked if he and his followers had got permission from the police to hold agitation at Azad Maidan in Mumbai, Jarange said in Lonavala a stage was being erected at the site, indicating he had not changed his plans.
The police notice said Mumbai's traffic management will go for a toss if a large number of vehicles. As per a Bombay High Court order, only 7,000 square metre area at Azad Maidan is reserved for any kind of agitation and the site can accommodate 5,000 to 6,000 protesters.
For holding an agitation at Shivaji Park in Dadar, permission of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) commissioner is required, it said.
Shivaji Park, too, does not have the capacity to accommodate a large gathering, said the police.
Meanwhile, the opposition attacked the Shinde government over the quota issue and accused it of misleading the community.
Maharashtra Congress president Nana Patole said Jarange's march towards Mumbai reflects failure of the government, in which the BJP and the NCP (Ajit Pawar group) are also constituents, to resolve the long-pending issue.
"The fact that the Maratha community is coming to Mumbai is the biggest failure of the Shinde-BJP government. The Shinde-Fadnavis-Ajit Pawar government misled the Maratha community ," he said.
The Shinde government has been in office since June 2022, but no decision on the Maratha quota has been taken as yet, Patole said. PTI SPK MR DC KRK NP BNM NR RSY