Except for appealing to Manoj Jarange-Patil to call off his long march to Mumbai and promising him that a resolution favoring reservation for Marathas will be passed in a special session of the state legislature, the Eknath Shinde government appears to be rather clueless on how to handle the lakhs of protestors determined to enter the state's capital. The number of his supporters has swelled to one million, and more Marathas are joining his cavalcade by the hour.
Jarange-Patil and his supporters are scheduled to camp at Lonavala on Wednesday night, and on Thursday, they will enter Navi Mumbai for an overnight stay, after which they will enter Mumbai on Republic Day. In Navi Mumbai, the marchers will be accommodated at the APMC market. The Bombay High Court has politely declined to issue any order to stop the march but mentioned that Azad Maidan can accommodate only 5,000 persons. It also reminded the government about the Supreme Court order in the Shaheen Bagh case, ruling that public roads cannot be occupied by protestors. However, the Maratha reservation activist is in no mood to stop the march, especially having tasted huge success along the 400 km route from Jalna to Lonavala so far.
Thousands of vehicles form a part of his march. At Khalapur in Raigad district, arrangements are being made to feed 10 lakh people. Cadres of opposition parties are extending help in terms of men and money to the march. Bachu Kadu, MLA, is maintaining communication between Shinde and Jarange Patil. Fearing a blockade of city roads, the traffic police have banned the movement of heavy vehicles from 7 am to noon. No government in the state has faced such a situation as the Shinde ministry is currently confronted with.
The use of force as an option to stop the march has been ruled out since it is certain to result in a major law and order problem. The cabinet is divided wide open, with Maratha ministers like Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil backing Jarange Patil's demand and OBC ministers like Chhagan Bhujbal opposing it. The lack of unity in the cabinet is complicating Shinde's task further.
One proposal being considered is that Shinde should drive down to Navi Mumbai and persuade Jarange Patil to call off the march by giving a written assurance of reservation for Marathas by convening a special session of the legislature. Incidentally, the entire cabinet is preparing to fly down to Ayodhya on February 5 to have darshan of Ram Lalla.