Maratha quota, caste violence dominated 2018 in Maharashtra

Mumbai | Quota politics and caste violence took centre stage in Maharashtra during the year, which also saw ruling BJP and Shiv Sena continue their blow-hot-and-cold relationship. Marathas, who constitute around 30 percent of the state’s 12 crore population, got 16 percent reservations in jobs and education after a protracted pro-quota agitation.

The Devendra Fadnavis-led government set up the State Backward Class Commission which declared Marathas as socially and educationally backward class citizens.

The previous Congress-NCP regime had granted 16 percent quota to Marathas, but the decision could not withstand legal scrutiny. The Rane committee, which recommended the 16 percent quota, lacked statutory powers, which the Commission had.

The Maratha quota decision has been challenged in the Bombay High Court, even as the state government decided to go ahead with its mega recruitment drive for 36,000 of the 72,000 vacant posts in various departments.

In July, Maratha quota protests turned violent in Marathwada and spread across the state after a youth Kakasaheb Shinde allegedly committed suicide by jumping in the Godavari river in Aurangabad district.

On January 1, an event to mark the 200th anniversary of the Koregaon-Bhima battle in Pune district in which the British Army comprising Dalits defeated upper-caste Peshwas was marred by incidents of stone pelting and vandalism.

Several towns and cities in Maharashtra remained on edge as Dalit protests against the violence spilled over to Mumbai, with agitators damaging scores of buses and disrupting road and rail traffic.

In September, the Pune police raided the premises of rights activists in Maharashtra, Telangana, Delhi, Haryana, and Goa and arrested Vernon Gonsalves in Mumbai, Arun Ferreira from Thane, Gautam Navlakha in Delhi, Sudha Bharadwaj in Haryana, and poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad for suspected Maoist links.

Police said the five were part of a conspiracy to create unrest among Dalits and target Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

There was a thaw in the BJP-Shiv Sena relations towards the year-end. After four years, Maharashtra Assembly had a deputy speaker after the BJP offered the seat to the Sena, move aimed at pacifying the bickering ally.

Fadnavis and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray travelled in the same car after participating in an event.

The two saffron partners, who fell out before the 2014 assembly polls, have been in an uneasy relationship. The acrimonious affair reached its peak during the Palghar Lok Sabha by-polls in May when Sena fielded Shriniwas Wanaga, son of BJP MP Chintaman Wanaga, whose death necessitated the election.

Political observers feel Uddhav Thackeray’s Ayodhya visit in November and his party’s pitch for building the Ram temple there is an attempt to beat the BJP at its own game.

In 2019, Maharashtra will vote for the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. The Congress and NCP renewed their alliance this year.

NCP president Sharad Pawar took the lead in holding a Save Constitution march in Mumbai and began a consultation process with like-minded parties to join hands to take on the BJP.

Shiv Sena’s opposition to the Nanar refinery project in the coastal Konkan region led to tensions between the saffron partners.

Thackeray addressed a rally in Nanar and Industries Minister Subhash Desai announced that he was scrapping the land acquisition notification for the project. Fadnavis said the minister had no right to do so but later announced that the notification had been scrapped.

BJP president Amit Shah met Thackeray in June at the latter’s Matoshri residence in suburban Bandra. After poll reverses in the Hindi heartland states, all eyes will be on how the BJP handles the Sena.

The BJP-led state government declared drought in 151 talukas in 26 districts and sought Central assistance of Rs 7,962.63 crore for drought relief.

The government said it deposited Rs 17,000 crore in bank accounts of 40.17 lakh farmers under the agri loan waiver scheme. The Opposition countered this claim, saying the BJP government had initially announced Rs 34,022 crore farm loan waiver.

The year saw farmers and tribals taking out long march twice and also farmers going on strike to press for various demands.

In October, a person was killed as a speedboat carrying government officials, media persons, and TV crew overturned when they were on their way for a ‘puja’ at the proposed Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial in the Arabian Sea off Mumbai coast.

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