On Tuesday, more than 20,000 members of the dhangar community demanding reservation blocked the road till chief minister Devendra Fadnavis addressed the crowd on phone. What looked like a smaller version of the Patel agitation in Gujarat, it may have a considerable implication on the state’s politics.
If the BJP keeps its word given to the community in 2013, the party may probably be able to make a dent in Western Maharashtra, that is now a NCP-Congress bastion. It has been a year since BJP came to power, but the poll promise to dhangars has not been met, as it remains a tricky issue.
The community of shepherds is demanding reservation as scheduled tribes (ST), which can get them a bigger slice of the quotas as against nomadic tribes now.
Although there was an agitation in 1989, a strong rally for the same demand was organized in the 2013 winter session, when the Congress-NCP government was in power. At that time, BJP quickly offered support to the community. Fadnavis gave a written undertaking to accept their demand once in power.
The dhangars had traditionally been Congress and NCP voters. However, the community leaders campaigned among the community to vote for BJP, citing Fadnavis’s letter. The election results coincided with BJP making gains in the Congress-NCP stronghold. Dhangars say their en masse voting for BJP helped the party.
A year later, they are back on the streets. On Tuesday, they were adamant, demanding that Fadnavis come in person to explain the delay in their demand getting fulfilled. The drama continued for over 6 hours and finally the chief minister telephonically conveyed that the process is on.
In an interesting side note, Dr Vikas Mahatme, a city-based ophthalmologist, emerged as the Hardik Patel of the dhangars. A Padma Shri awardee, Mahatme has no political background otherwise. He had spearheaded their protest in 2013 as well.
If Dhangars do get the status, it may probably change the electoral equation to BJP’s advantage and to NCP’s loss, as they claim separate constituencies are earmarked as exclusive for ST candidates on the basis of population. If dhangars get the ST tag, some 20-25 seats, mainly in Western Maharashtra, may become reserved. This may turn the tables against the Maratha-dominated NCP in its stronghold, if dhangars become BJP voters in reciprocation, says the leaders.
Even if it wanted, NCP could not have helped dhangars get the status as senior leaders like Madhukar Pichad are opposing any further division of ST quota with new entrants. Pichad heads the Maharashtra Adivasi Bachao Abhiyan, an independent body.
A day before dhangars staged the rally, there was a similar procession by other tribals. Not accommodating dhangars in their fold was one of the demands. On December 11, Pichad will again organize another rally on the same grounds. Pichad claimed support by other Congress leaders like Shivaji Moghe and Vasant Purke.
The Dhangar story
* The shepherd community wants the status as scheduled tribe and get reservations accordingly
* Demand raised in 2013, with Nagpur’s eye specialist Dr Vikas Mahatme emerging the leader
* BJP supported the issue in 2013. Fadnavis gave a written assurance to give the status when in power
* If Dhangars get the ST tag, it may create 20-25 new state legislature seats as exclusive for tribals
* This will be mainly in Western Maharashtra, the NCP-Congress stronghold, and help BJP garner votes
* But BJP has not kept the word yet
* Tuesday’s rally had more of anti-NCP flavour even as BJP was also flayed
* Fadnavis told Tuesday’s rally that a study was being conducted to ascertain the dhangar community’s social status
* The study is needed to back the claim at the centre
* Madhukar Pichad of NCP admits that ST status to dhangars will change the equation of seats
* Mahatme and other leaders accept it can lead to BJP’s benefit
(The Times of India, Dec 10, 2015)
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