The pro-quota bandh called by some Maratha groups on Thursday was marked by sporadic violence and arson, disruption of road traffic and rallies in various parts of Maharashtra. The day-long agitation began on a relatively peaceful note in the morning but turned violent in the afternoon. Internet services were suspended in seven rural tehsils of Pune district to prevent rumour-mongering.
Marathas, a politically influential community that constitutes around 30 per cent of the state’s population, have been demanding 16 per cent reservation. Community members had earlier taken out silent marches across the state to highlight their demands, prominent among them being that of reservation. Thursday’s bandh call was given by Sakal Maratha Samaj, an umbrella body of Maratha groups, but excluded Navi Mumbai, which had witnessed large-scale violence last month during protests by the community. The bandh was called despite chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ assurance that his government was working on providing reservation to Marathas in government jobs and educational institutes, one that is legally sustainable. Fadnavis had sought time till November to take steps with regard to the quota.
Pune was one of the worst hit in Thursday’s agitation, with a mob vandalising property at the district collectorate and violence being witnessed at some other places.The authorities had ordered closure of schools and colleges in some cities, including Pune, fearing violence. Protesters vandalised property at the Pune district collectorate and damaged some light bulbs in the premises.
Protesters held a sit-in outside the residence of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar in Baramati tehsil of Pune, and were joined by his nephew Ajit Pawar in support of the Maratha community’s demand for reservation in government jobs and education.
Shiv Sena MLA from Kolhapur, Prakash Abitkar, who was denied permission to enter the Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai in support of the Maratha community’s quota demand, sat outside the gate of the legislature complex in protest.
Though Navi Mumbai has been excluded from the bandh, the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) at Turbhe in the densely populated township decided to remain shut on Thursday.
Security was stepped up in Navi Mumbai, with deployment of city police personnel along with a company of the Rapid Action Force and the Reserve Police Force. The public transport buses and local trains were running normal in the town. Heavy security was deployed on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and Mumbai-Goa Highway near Kalamboli, a police official said. Even though Maratha groups excluded essential services from the purview of the bandh, supply of vegetables was affected in some parts of the state, including Mumbai.
A traffic department official said the number of vehicles on National Highway number four (Mumbai-Pune) and on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway was significantly less compared to other days.Protesters halted buses and other vehicles on roads in Latur, Jalna, Solapur and Buldhana districts. They blocked the Madha-Shetfal road, which connects to National Highway No. 9 (Pune-Hyderabad) in Solapur district. Some agitators burnt tyres on roads in Jalna and Ahmednagar districts.
In Satara, all petrol pumps and vegetable markets were closed while all state transport busses were kept parked at the central bus stand. Agitators blocked roads disrupted traffic in Nashik, Buldhana and Solapur districts. The state-run public transport services were partially suspended in Osmanabad and Buldhana districts to avoid any damage as protesters had targeted buses in the previous round of agitation last month.