Maharashtra has been experiencing major political turbulence for the last five years, which began after the 2019 Assembly election results. In 2019, it was the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress which came to power and in 2024, there is the ruling Mahayuti of the Shiv Sena-BJP-NCP (AP), which is likely to continue till the Assembly elections scheduled to be held in September-October 2024. For the Mahayuti government, the challenges in 2024 are manifold: The legal hurdles for the Maratha reservation, the churning among the OBCs and other quota hopefuls like Dhangars or Muslims, or the likelihood of a new social-political chasm developing in the state.
Currently, an unexpected storm in the form of the Maratha reservation agitation is moving to engulf the ruling Mahayuti, rattle the OBCs and shake up state politics – with some experts likening it to the post-Mandal Commission Report implementation of 1990. It was in August 2023 that a 40-year-old, lanky Manoj Jarange-Patil, heading the little-known Shivba Sanghatana stormed on to the political stage in Maharashtra, simultaneously dividing and uniting several forces as he launched his crusade for Maratha quotas.
Unlike past movements that fizzled out, Shivba Sanghatana struck a sensitive chord with the Marathas, who responded to Jarange-Patil spontaneously, virtually making the political establishment dance to his tune. With ministers practically at his beck-and-call Jarange-Patil lords over the community from Jalna. Towards the end of 2023, Jarange-Patil set off major alarms by announcing plans to lay a peaceful siege to the country’s commercial capital, Mumbai from January 20, 2024, onwards along with three crore Marathas as he prepares for “the final, do-or-die battle” for reservation – despite the state having 11 out of 19 Chief Ministers from the community.
For a congested city like Mumbai, with a population of over 1.50 crore, a sudden influx of three crore people could prove to be catastrophic for the administration. Marathas comprise approximately 35-40 per cent of the state electorate and are a decisive factor in some 150 of the state’s 288 Assembly seats, and in around 20 of the 48 Lok Sabha constituencies – both going for polls in 2024. Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, Deputy CMs Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar, and top Opposition leaders like ex-CM Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad Pawar, Nana Patole and others have openly supported Jarange-Patil’s demands.
Considering the legal aspects, the political fall-out, the electoral ramifications and the impact on society, the beleaguered Shinde played his next best card, seeking time till February 2024 to announce the Maratha quotas. Whether quotas are given or not, Jarange-Patil remains in a win-win situation and can potentially create havoc by upsetting all poll permutations-combinations, and get catapulted to the position of a ‘king or king-maker’ in Maharashtra. Under him, the Marathas could rise as an independent political force that can bulldoze all existing political parties.