Maratha Quota Agitation Overshadows Maharashtra’s Poll Pitch

Political analysts feel the implications of vote consolidation will have a lasting impact on politics in Marathawada and Maharashtra.

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Maratha Quota activist Manoj Jarange Patil ends protest after the Eknath Shinde government accepts the demands. Photo: Getty Images

Recently, Rahi Rohate, a Maratha woman, hanged herself in the middle of the night, as her six-year-old son and husband were deep asleep. She lived in Ahervadaon village of Beed taluka in Maharashtra. “There are a lot of problems … of farming, debt, but we were managing our household. I don’t know why she took such an extreme step,” said bereaved husband Ashok Rohate.

Ashok and Rahi toiled on their one-acre farm, growing jowar and bajra for their family’s consumption and soyabeans to sell in the market. “Last year, farming was difficult due to very less rainfall. We managed to grow some soyabeans, but their selling price has drastically reduced and the amount is not enough to last us a year,” Ashok said, expressing doubt about whether he can even avail the government-handed compensation to farmers as incidents of women committing suicide are rare.

Beed, the hometown of the state’s agriculture minister Dhananjay Munde—cousin of BJP Lok Sabha candidate Pankaja—has the highest number of farmer suicides. Failure to implement irrigation projects, the lack of adequate rainfall, extreme heat and drought conditions have resulted in persistent crop failures, turning Beed into the epicentre of farmer suicides.

Over 80 per cent of farmers committing suicide belong to the Maratha community. 

Marathas are the dominant caste in Maharashtra, constituting nearly 35 per cent of the state’s population. It includes groups and sub-groups from 96 koli Marathas to the agrarian Kunbis and economically weaker classes who work as sugar cane cutters. 

Unlike the Marathas in Konkan and Western Maharashtra, who are recognised as Kunbis and have benefitted from reservation under OBC, Marathas in Marathwada haven't because the community is notified as Kunbi but not as Marathas.

The Marathwada region, comprising Aurangabad, Jalna, Parbhani, Nanded, Beed, Latur and Osmanabad (now Dharashiv) districts, is populated by Marathas, Dhangar, Vanzari and Dalit communities. Geographically, it is the state’s largest region and was renowned as the sugar and cotton bowl. However, erratic rainfall, drought-like conditions, and conflicts of interest over sugar co-operatives and cotton spinning mills by political dynastic families have contributed to the continuing downfall.

“Instead of addressing developmental needs, politics in Beed has revolved around caste polarisation and caste prestige,” remarked Sanjay Malani, co-editor of Prajapatrak, a local rights-based newspaper. “The Marathas have developed a belief that all their problems will be resolved through reservation.”  

In the first week of May, hundreds of angry villagers from Beed in Maharashtra blocked the convoy of senior BJP leaders campaigning for national secretary Pankaja Munde—contesting from Beed. Not a single vehicle of party workers was allowed to enter the cluster of dozen villages, Vijay Supekar, the sarpanch of Shivne village, who participated in the demonstration, said.

“Nearly 700-800 Maratha youth gathered from the neighbouring villages and gheraoed the cars. We told them we were angry and would not allow the BJP to campaign in our villages,” added Supekar, who also hails from the Maratha community. In December, the Gram Sabha of Shivne passed a resolution to vote against the BJP in the coming elections. “The BJP government did not do justice to the issue of Maratha reservation,” Supekar said.

Similar reactions and resolutions against the BJP have emerged from other villages across the Beed district, which has nearly 40 per cent of the population—approximately 7.5 lakh Marathas, followed by Vanzaras at 3.5 lakh, and Muslims and Dalits at 2.5 lakh each.

The Munde family, belonging to the OBC Vanzara community, has maintained its prominence in the Beed district for 25 years. The late Gopinath Munde won the Lok Sabha in 2009 and 2014. After his death, his daughter, Dr Pritam, won the by-poll. She retained the seat in 2019 as well, but the BJP cancelled her ticket and fielded her sister Pankaja instead.

But it is the politics around the Maratha reservation that has undermined Pankaja Munde’s position against her opponent Bajrang Sonawane, a farmer from the Maratha community, contesting on Sharad Pawar-led NCP ticket. 

Munde’s past comment stating that one does not get a reservation by going on a hunger strike is particularly weighing heavy against her as it is seen dissing quota activist-turned- mass leader Manoj Jarange-Patil, who stirred the Maratha agitation.

“This time, the elections in Beed are clearly being fought on caste lines. There’s a straight Maratha vs OBC fight, as large numbers of Marathas are rallying in support of Sonawane,” says Dnyandev Kashid, one of the leaders of the Maratha Kranti Morcha, the outfit behind mass-scale protests for the reservation of the Maratha community.  

The repercussions of the Maratha agitation were witnessed in Jalna and Sambhajinagar. “The reservation issue is burning in the entire Marathwada region, particularly in Jalna and Beed, which witnessed large protests. The Maratha community, which has a high vote share in the region, feels deceived and is aggrieved with the Shinde-led goverment for not fulfilling their reservation demands,” says Angad Taur, an academic from Jalna. 

The drought-prone region of Marathwada, ill-famed for the high numbers of farmers’ suicides, has fought for reservation quota since the 1970s. The movement was revived again by Jarange-Patil in 2014 after the Bombay HC stayed the 16 per cent reservation for Marathas in government jobs and educational institutes by the Congress-NCP-led government. It has continued to rock Maharashtra since then. 


Last year, the movement turned violent in Beed and Jalna after police action against protestors. Mobs of angry youth attacked properties and houses of elected representatives and over a dozen Maratha youths died by suicide over the government’s delays in meeting the reservation demands. 

In February, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led government tabled a bill for a separate 10 per cent Maratha quota that was unanimously approved by the state assembly. But Marathas have rejected the special reservations as it did not fulfill its demand of recognition of all Marathas as Kunbis so that they can avail of OBC quota benefits. Jarange-Patil and others have sought recognition for Marathas as the immediate kin and blood relatives of Kunbis. 


Constitutionally, there is provision for reservation in only three categories—SC, ST, and OBC. “The fourth category of separate quota for Marathas as approved by the BJP-led government does not hold in the eyes of law,” says advocate B N Jadhav, the convenor of the MKM in Beed. He accuses the Shinde government of fooling Marathas with false assurances.  

According to him, the sharp reactions against the BJP during this election are due to the government’s fiasco over reservation. Marathas don’t trust Home Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who assured positive action to Jarange Patil but failed to implement quota demands. 

Besides rain-fed agriculture, a quarter of Beed’s 31 lakh population work as sugarcane cutters—many are from the Maratha community. From October to April, district’s six lakh population migrates to the estimated 109 sugar factories spread across Ahmednagar, Kolhapur, Solapur, Satara and Sangli for the harvest.


“Beed’s economy is dependent on farmers and sugarcane workers, but unfortunately both the groups, do not benefit from any of the government’s schemes,” says labour rights activist Manisha Tokale.

Locals claimed under the Munde family’s rule, no other OBC community has benefitted as much as the Vanzara community, which commands all the top government and police posts in Beed. 

Jarange-Patil’s recent announcement that Marathas will fight the upcoming state assembly elections by fielding their own candidates, has further emboldened the community. “The Muslim community has openly supported Maratha reservation and will be a game-changer in the elections against the BJP,” notes Taur.  


Kashid from the MKM said this is the first time that, Marathas have become politically aware of their representation. “The implications of this vote consolidation will have a lasting impact on the politics in Marathawada but also all of Maharashtra,” he said.