It is evident that the demand for Maratha reservation has taken centre-stage in Maharashtra politics once again, but the same issue could be a thorn in the step of the Mahayuti (BJP, Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena and Ajit Pawar’s NCP) in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections as well, given that, this time, the OBC community is fuming with the idea of all Marathas getting quota under the ‘Kunbi’ caste.
Meanwhile, the Dhangars are also protesting the Shinde government over their quota demand. Though the community is not as big in size compared to the Marathas but the state government is certainly cannot afford to ignore them as they have presence across rural Maharashtra and can swing votes.
It is a tricky situation for chief minister Shinde to be in as it is quite visible that both his deputy chief ministers (Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar) are keeping an arm’s length on the caste issue.
Fadnavis, who has the experience in handling the Maratha reservation issue earlier the BJP government in the state in 2019, has taken a back seat after the Jalna lathi-charge incident, which reignited the caste cauldron. Pawar, too, also seems to be missing in action.
Although both the deputy CMs have been regularly attending the meetings related to the Maratha reservation, but the efforts, which are expected from them, are not so apparent. Hence the question is Shinde battling it all alone?
The Lok Sabha Election surveys, which many media organisations are carrying out in Maharashtra, point that Marathas are backing Congress and NCP while OBCs are rallying behind Shiv Sena and BJP.
The recent Gram Panchayat election indicated that the Ajit Pawar faction is getting a good response. Similarly, people voted in favour of Shinde’s Shiv Sena as compared to Uddhav Thackeray’s faction, and the BJP has once again dominated Congress in these elections. Though not fought on any party symbol, these polls are indicators to for the next big challenge in 2024.
The catch-22 situation for Shinde is that the caste reservation will intensify as 2024 polls near. Right now, the Marathas are standing firm with activist Manoj Jarange-Patil, who has become the face of the community over the reservation issue in the last few months. OBC leaders across all parties have also come on one stage to mark their protest against the Maratha community over Kunbi caste certificates. Dhangar agitation too has picked up in the state over their other demands. Surprisingly, the Dhangar community protest is being led by BJP’s Gopichand Padalkar. He had given deadlines to his own government but is now starting state-wide protests. OBC leader Chaggan Bhujbal, who is a cabinet minister and leader of NCP (Ajit Pawar faction), is leading the agitation for his community. He held a rally in Jalna on November 17 where all-party OBC leaders were seen on the stage.
According to sources, CM Shinde is not at all happy with these recent developments around the caste reservation, with leaders from alliance protesting and trying to galvanise their community members against his government. How Shinde will tackle this situation and emerge a leader and deliver the desired results in the 2024 elections need to be seen.