Buses were attacked, stones pelted at local trains and key highways blocked today in violent protests that erupted during the bandh called by pro-quota maratha groups in Maharashtra.
As one more protester died, a day after he consumed poison taking to 2 the death toll in the ongoing protests, the bandh in Mumbai was called off midway after violence broke out in the country’s financial capital but incidents like stone pelting continued to be reported in some areas till late evening. After the bandh was called off shortly before 3 pm in Mumbai, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis released a statement in which he said the Maratha community should come forward for talks with the government instead of resorting to agitation and violence.
The BJP leader also accused “certain leaders” of trying to create caste division in Maharashtra but did not elaborate. Marathas, a politically-influential community constituting around 30 per cent of the state’s population and a huge vote bank for the Congress-NCP combine, have been demanding reservation in jobs and education that has become a contentious issue. The bandh was called by Maratha Kranti Morcha and other groups. Fadnavis said his government was committed to grant reservations in jobs and education to the Marathas, and pointed out that the government passed a law in this regard, but it was struck down by the high court. The state appealed against the high court decision in the apex court but could not get a stay, he said. “Hence, the case is pending in the high court. A state OBC commission has been set up and a proposal is being prepared as per the law. We are doing sincerely whatever is in our power,” he said. Some Maratha leaders want the government to give them OBC status and not reservation because any quota, beyond the existing upper limit of 50 per cent set by the Supreme Court, would be difficult to implement. On the other hand, if the Marathas are granted Other Backward Caste(OBC) status, they would qualify for the existing quotas in this category. Protesters attacked buses, indulged in arson and pelted stones at local trains in several parts of Maharashtra, including Mumbai and the adjoining Thane city,, police and officials said.
The bandh was called by Maratha outfits to press for their demand for reservation in jobs and education. The Mumbai-Pune and Mumbai-Goa highways were blocked for hours by the protesters Three policemen, including a Superintendent of Police, suffered injuries in stone pelting,, a police official said. Police used force, including teargas shelling and baton charge, to disperse the violent protesters at several places. A number of places witnessed pitched battles between the police and stone-pelters for hours. Last Sunday, 27-year-old Kakasaheb Shinde, a pro-quota protester, jumped off a bridge over Godavari River in Aurangabad and died. This led to the agitation being stepped up. Yesterday, a man identified as Jagannath Sonawane consumed a poisonous substance during the protest in Aurangabad. He died today at a local government hospital.
The latest round of agitation, organised in the form of a bandh in various places of Maharashtra since Monday, today reached Mumbai where a shutdown was attempted to be imposed. “We only wanted to prove that we are together and proved it. We never wanted protests to get violent and therefore, we are calling off our bandh in Mumbai for today,” Virendra Pawar, leader of the Morcha, told reporters in Mumbai. “We suspect some people carried out violent activities with political motives. Otherwise, it was supposed to be peaceful like before. But considering the reports of violence coming from outside Mumbai, we decided to call it off,” Pawar added.