Mumbai: The lack of political will – either by intent or by habit – was manifest in the sporadic violence that marked the Maratha reservation bandh on Wednesday. Despite the fore knowledge that the bandh may turn violent – as was the case elsewhere in the State for the last few days — the extensive police ‘bandobast’ neither acted as a deterrent, nor as a dampener. The police, from all accounts, merely watched from the side lines as the lumpen element took over.
Shops, BEST buses and private cars were vandalised in parts of Thane, Mumbai, Nalasopara and Kalamboli in Navi Mumbai. The city could breathe easy only after the Maratha group, which was spearheading the agitation, called off the strike in the afternoon. After the bandh was called off, as if on cue, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced that the government was ready for talks.
“The government has taken cognisance of the protest by the Maratha community and has taken several decisions. The government is ready to talk to them. A law was enacted for enhanced reservation to the community, but that was stayed by the Bombay High Court,” Fadnavis said, explaining the inaction on their part. Political detractors lamented the belated announcement and felt the political initiative could have come the previous day along with an apology from the CM on the scare mongering over his visit to Pandharpur temple.
But before the thaw came, protesters blocked arterial roads, including the Mumbai-Pune highway and the Eastern Expressway, and forced shops to shut. Local train routes were blocked in Jogeshwari and near Thane. The blockade of the Mumbai-Pune highway was cleared only late in the afternoon. In Kandivli, protestors intercepted private vehicles and BEST buses. A BEST bus was also set on fire but nobody was injured as the passengers were asked to disembark. In Nalasopara, protestors at Tulinj Road went around vandalising shops and slapping shopkeepers.
In Kalamboli (Navi Mumbai), one of the flashpoints, the police had to use batons and teargas to control protesters, who were squatting on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Stones were also thrown at two buses. Elsewhere in the state, there was little respite. Jagannath Sonavne, a third protester who attempted suicide by consuming poison on Tuesday in Aurangabad’s Deogaon Rangari, died in a hospital on Wednesday.
Satara Superintendent of Police was among those injured in stone pelting. The police later retaliated by lobbing teargas shells at protestors. The stir continued till late evening, even though the Sakal Maratha Samaj had called off the bandh at around 2.40 pm. Later, in the evening, reports said the situation in Koparkhairane (Navi Mumbai), the nerve centre of the protest, was finally under control. Police personnel have successfully evacuated all protesters from the spot.