Pune/Mumbai: A silent sit-in protest demanding reservation for the Maratha community began in Maharashtra's Kolhapur on Wednesday under the leadership of BJP's Rajya Sabha member Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati. This formally launched the statewide agitation over the Maratha quota issue.
The agitation began amid light rains at the memorial of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj with several MLAs and other leaders cutting across the party lines taking part in it. Several Maratha organisations in the state have extended their support to the protest. Among those present at the agitation were Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) leader Prakash Ambedkar, Kolhapur guardian minister and Congress leader Satej Patil, state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil.
Dhairyashil Mane, Shiv Sena MP from Kolhapur district also took part in the protest with a saline bottle attached to him as he was infected with COVID-19 a few weeks back. "I have fully recovered (from COVID-19), but advised some rest for the next some days. However, I have stepped out of my house for this cause and I am ready to go to other places as well to extend my support," he said. Chandrakant Patil, who has been critical of Sambhajiraje over the last couple of weeks, questioning whether the latter was doing the protest to get a second term in the Raja Sabha, on Wednesday handed over his letter of support to the parliamentarian. While announcing the launch of the protest, Sambhajiraje appealed to the protesters to remain silent while the public representatives address the gathering. The protest is being held even as the COVID-19 positivity rate in Kolhapur district remains high and a couple of days ago, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Health Minister Rajesh Tope had reviewed the situation.
Shailesh Balkawde, Superintendent of Police of Kolhapur has said that instructions had been given to the organisers of the protest to follow COVID-19-appropriate behavior during the agitation. The Kolhapur police said they have made adequate arrangements in view of the agitation, he said. Last month, the Supreme Court had struck down the 2018 Maharashtra law granting quota to Marathas in admissions and government jobs, terming it as "unconstitutional", and held there were no exceptional circumstances to breach the 50 percent reservation cap set by the 1992 Mandal verdict.
Sambhajiraje had toured several districts in the state and met key leaders across parties to discuss the quota issue. He had earlier said that till the objective of reservation for the community is achieved, the state government should work towards strengthening the Shahu Maharaj Research Training and Human Development Institute (SARTHI), providing concessions to the poor from the Maratha community (on lines of OBCs), setting up new hostels for community students in every district, and using other ways to ensure welfare of members of the social group.