Maharashtra govt accepts Maratha quota activist Manoj Jarange's demands, drafts ordinance

Maratha activist Manoj Jarange Patil and his supporters during their march for reservation, in Navi Mumbai, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. Photo: PTI

Mumbai: The Maharashtra government on Friday night came out with a draft ordinance regarding the demands of Maratha quota activist Manoj Jarange as he halted his march towards Mumbai and camped in neighbouring Navi Mumbai with thousands of supporters. 

Chief Minister Eknath Shinde held meetings with officials to discuss Jarange's demands, and later at night sent a delegation with a draft ordinance to meet the activist, said a statement from his office. The delegation included social justice department secretary Sumant Bhange, Aurangabad divisional commissioner Madhukar Arangal, chief minister's secretary Amol Shinde and others. 

Earlier, the 40-year-old activist, who has planned to stage a hunger strike at Azad Maidan in South Mumbai, made a fresh demand that the government amend its free education policy to include all Marathas until the benefit of reservation becomes available for the entire community. He and his supporters would enter Mumbai on Saturday for their planned protest at Azad Maidan ground if their demands were not met by night, he warned. 

Many of his supporters arrived in Mumbai during the day and thronged the area near Azad Maidan. Addressing a rally at Shivaji Chowk in the Vashi area of Navi Mumbai in the afternoon, Jarange said he will stay put in Navi Mumbai for the day. "I am taking a step backwards," the 40-year-old activist said, adding that he had stopped having food from Friday and was taking only water. "If an ordinance (to meet his various demands) is not promulgated tonight, I will come to Mumbai tomorrow," he said. 

"I will take a decision on going to Azad Maidan tomorrow at noon. Once I set out, there will be no turning back," the activist warned. The free education policy should be amended so that boys also get free education besides girls, and all Marathas should get free education "from KG to PG" (kindergarten to post-graduation) until the entire community gets reservation, he said. He has sought data of the 37 lakh Kunbi certificates issued by the state government, Jarange further said. Kunbi, an agrarian community, falls in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category, and Jarange has been demanding Kunbi certificates for all Marathas. 

"The government has told me that 54 lakh Kunbi records (records showing that a Maratha person/family belongs to Kunbi community) have been found, of which 37 lakh certificates have been given. Who are these people? We need data," he said. "More than two crore Marathas will get OBC certificates after Kunbi records are found," Jarange said, adding that all Marathas should apply for the Kunbi certificate to avail of reservation. Once a person is established as belonging to the Kunbi caste, all his/her relatives should get reservation, he demanded. Present government job recruitment should be carried out by keeping some seats reserved for the Marathas, he said. He has also demanded withdrawal of cases registered against Maratha activists during the quota protests, he said. The government has been trying to persuade Jarange not to proceed to Mumbai, sending delegations to hold talks with him. 

State education minister Deepak Kesarkar told reporters earlier in the day that Jarange's demands had been accepted, and would be fulfilled as per government procedure. A team of senior Mumbai police officials including Additional Commissioner of Police (Special Branch) Virendra Mishra, Additional Commissioner of Police (East) Vinayak Deshmukh and Deputy Commissioner of Police Purushottam Karad also met Jarange in Navi Mumbai regarding his protest at Azad Maidan.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Jarange said the agitators were cooperating with the police, and those who were taken into custody must be released immediately. A huge number of police personnel have been deployed near the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) in Vashi area, while units of local police, State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) and Rapid Action Force (RAF) among others have been stationed at vital points to maintain law and order, an official said. Jarange and his supporters, who set out from his native Antarwali Sarati village in Jalna district on January 20, arrived at the Vashi APMC in Navi Mumbai around 5 am on Friday by bikes, cars, jeeps, tempos and trucks. He had announced on Thursday that he would start his hunger strike at Azad Maidan from Friday, despite Mumbai Police denying him permission to hold a hunger strike in the city by issuing a notice under section 149 of the Criminal Procedure Code that enables the police to prevent cognisable offences. Police suggested that the protestors could gather at International Corporation Park Ground at Kharghar in Navi Mumbai. Senior police officials from Mumbai also met him on Friday evening. The activist suddenly emerged into the limelight in September 2023 when police used force to break up the gathering at his indefinite fast at Antarwali Sarati. He launched another round of fast later, forcing the government to initiate talks with him. The Maharashtra government had earlier enacted law to provide reservation in government jobs and admissions to educational institutes to the politically as well as numerically dominant Maratha community, but it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2021.

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