The Takeoff, Rise & Fall Of Manoj Jarange-Patil

The Takeoff, Rise & Fall Of Manoj Jarange-Patil

Rohit ChandavarkarUpdated: Wednesday, February 28, 2024, 12:50 PM IST
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Manoj Jarange-Patil | PTI

Just like Maharashtra has been the land of social reform and reformists, it has also been the land of very big political agitations. Not just in the pre-independence era but in the modern times too Maharashtra has seen many agitations. Farmer agitations by leaders like Sharad Joshi, agitations for the demand of renaming the Marathwada University as Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada university and even agitations by activists like Anna Hazare in the recent past. But in many cases (not all) these agitations got stalled just after they gathered momentum. Suddenly the agitations just went bust in many cases. One such latest example seems to be the agitation launched by young Maratha leader Manoj Jarange-Patil over the demand for reservation for the Maratha community in education and government jobs. For the citizens and observers of political events, it is interesting to look at how an agitation which seemed to have the support of millions of people has now suddenly stalled just after take-off.

On the day when all eyes and ears in Maharashtra should have been on the state's annual budget being announced in the state legislature, attention in fact got diverted in the first half of the day to how the state government would handle JarangePatil’s agitation. As the proceedings in the state assembly started on Tuesday morning, the BJP launched a frontal attack on Jarange-Patil and demanded that there should be a special investigation team or SIT set up to investigate how Jarange-Patil's agitation grew in the first place and who was behind it.

The demand for reservation for the Maratha community has been ageold, but it gathered momentum specifically in the past 10 years because of the agricultural economy going through a lot of distress with drought conditions, farmers not getting proper prices for produce, jobs shrinking and education getting privatised and becoming very expensive. The demand totally comes out of economic distress. The state government under Devendra Fadnavis as CM announced reservation for the Maratha community in 2019 but it got struck down by the Supreme Court in 2021. In August of 2023 a fresh agitation was launched by Jarange-Patil in Jalna distinct of Marathwada demanding reservation for the community. This spread and got response from millions of followers. Initially it was seen that the state government and most political leaders of the ruling party were very sympathetic towards Jarange-Patil and almost went to the extent of supporting him in every action of his. But in seven months the picture has now totally changed and on Tuesday the government announced an investigation against him!

How this agitation was used by some politicians to gather support or project themselves as the leaders of the Maratha community, and how slowly the agitation grew and went out of their control, is the story that has unfolded before our eyes. From August onwards as and when Jarange-Patil sat on hunger agitation multiple times, every time he was surrounded by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s advisers. Three cabinet ministers from the Shinde government and two officers from Shinde’s office were seen holding talks with Jarange-Patil every now and then. It created an impression that it was CM Shinde who pumped up the agitation.

The buzz in political circles was that Shinde was calling the shots and through Jarange-Patil managed to create an impression that he had a political hold over a majority of the Marathas involved in the agitation a community that comprises 28% of the state’s population and is one of the strongest political vote banks. Traditionally there have been many leaders like Sharad Pawar, late Vilasrao Deshmukh, Ashok Chavan, Ajit Pawar, Narayan Rane and many others who always pitched themselves as leaders of the community but this time the agitation was entirely controlled by Jarange-Patil, a fresh new non-political face who seemed to negotiate only with CM Eknath Shinde, giving Shinde the leverage he needed in view of the upcoming elections. In the last week of January when the Maratha rally with lakhs of supporters reached Navi Mumbai and was planning to enter the state capital, Shinde held midnight negotiations with Jarange-Patil and announced a truce. This was followed by celebrations with Jarange-Patil and Shinde seen at the forefront offering sweets to each other.

Obviously, this put Shinde above all other Maratha leaders in the state and he was seen by the community as the Chief Minister who announced 10% reservations for the Marathas. The buzz among the Opposition party circles was that Shinde had succeeded in fully controlling Jarange-Patil.

However, things started going out of control as within a few days JarangePatil and his advisers started getting the impression that the state government’s announcement of providing 10% reservation to the community could be challenged in court and could again be struck down as it had been in 2021. About a fortnight ago JarangePatil launched another hunger agitation and this time started targeting the state leadership especially Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. In the heat of arguments Jarange-Patil also made some statements against the Prime Minister of the country and this was the last straw for the BJP leadership in Maharashtra. Reportedly the state leadership of the BJP took up the matter with the central leadership and sources say that on February 13 or 14 they sought clearance from the central leadership to proceed with a political crackdown against Jarange-Patil. The clearance was given.

On Tuesday in the Assembly, frontline leaders of the BJP such as Ashish Shelar and Pravin Darekar launched a scathing attack against Manoj Jarange-Patil and sought a Special Investigation Team (SIT) action against him. An announcement was made in the house that such an SIT will be formed. It is clear that Maharashtra’s political leadership especially the BJP side of it has decided to bring down Manoj Jarange-Patil, a man who till just a couple of weeks ago was seen as an honest and genuine crusader fighting the cause of Maratha reservation. Just like some previous political agitations in Maharashtra, the latest Maratha reservation stir is headed towards some sort of suspended animation. Some of Jarange-Patil’s close associates have been now taken into custody by the state police while some districts in Marathwada region where JarangePatil has a large following face internet service shutdown. Jarange-Patil announced on Monday itself that he has withdrawn his current hunger strike, dropped the idea of marching towards Mumbai and staging a protest there, and that he would wait for a while and launch a village-to-village tour soon.

With the hot election campaign season coming up it looks like the state leadership in Maharashtra at least for the time being has succeeded in dousing a huge brewing agitation which could have made large impact in the state. It remains to be seen whether Jarange-Patil still has the steam to carry out a smaller village-to-village campaign and cause some impact through his actions. The story so far looks very similar to legendary playwright Vijay Tendulkar's epic drama Ghashiram Kotwal in which the establishment creates a larger-than-life entity to achieve some political goals but puts him down when he starts growing beyond control.

Rohit Chandavarkar is a senior journalist who has worked for 31 years with various leading newspaper brands and television channels in Mumbai and Pune

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