Mumbai: In a major setback to the state government, talks on Dhangar reservation failed on Thursday. While the government sought more time to resolve the issue, activists from the Dhangar community stated that they are not prepared to give more time to the government and will intensify their agitation.
Controversy around 'Dhangar'& 'Dhangad'
The Dhangar community is not part of the 'Scheduled Tribes' (ST) list. Instead, a tribe named 'Dhangad' is on the list. Dhangar community leaders in Maharashtra have argued for several years that Maharashtra doesn't have any community titled 'Dhangad' and that the entry in the list is misspelled. They insist that the government needs to correct it and grant ST status to the 'Dhangar' community instead of 'Dhangad'. The community had resorted to agitation over the issue in the past but withdrew the agitation after assurances from the government. However, after the Maratha agitation and swift government action, the Dhangar community also resumed their agitation.
Senior Dhangar leader Suresh Bandgar had been on a fast at Chondi in Ahmednagar district for the past six days. In response to the agitation, a meeting of the agitators was scheduled at Sahyadri state guest house in Mumbai with Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, and other ministers and senior government officials. However, no common ground was found during the negotiations, according to the agitators.
BJP MLA Gopichand Padalkar, who has been advocating for the demand for several years, expressed optimism about the government's stance. He stated, "We presented Government Resolutions (GRs) from four states. The government is positive about the issue. A committee will be set up within two days, and the issue will be resolved within two months, as the government has stated. The committee will tour the states and prepare its report."
However, other community leaders appeared less optimistic. Balasaheb Dodtole, the national president of Yashwant Sena, said, "The government mentioned that the administration will study the quota granted to the community in other states within three months and do justice to the demands being raised by the community. However, that is a very time-consuming and tedious process. Hence, we have decided to continue the fast and intensify our agitation until we see concrete progress toward our demands."
"Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Ministers, everybody was positive. But mere positivity and sweet talk haven't brought justice to the Dhangar community over the past 70 years. The same thing repeated today. The government is looking at the issue with positivity but is not making any decisions. Hence, we have decided to continue the agitation in a democratic manner. The fast unto death is already underway, and we will intensify it," he added.
Meanwhile, reacting to the developments from Chondi, Bandgar, who has been on a fast for the past six days, said, "The BJP is against the Dhangar community. They don't want to grant quota for our community. I've been witnessing this for the past 10 years. I am willing to sacrifice my life for my community, but I will not stop fighting. I will continue my fast unto death."
CM and DCMs React
Chief Minister Eknath Shinde stated that the state government does not want to rush into a decision.
"We aim to grant reservation to the community that would withstand legal scrutiny. Some states like Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Telangana have already issued Government Resolutions (GRs) to provide caste certificates to the Dhangar community. We plan to send a delegation, including members from the Dhangar community, to those states to study the procedure. The committee's report will be sent to the Attorney General, and we will seek his guidance. If there are any issues with this procedure, a committee led by a retired High Court judge will be appointed," the CM added.
He also mentioned that the government has assured community leaders that schemes meant for them, providing benefits similar to those for ST communities, will be proactively implemented, and cases against agitators in the recent agitation will be pardoned.
DCM Fadnavis emphasized the government's sensitivity to the demands of the Dhangar community. "Previously, they were granted benefits similar to those of ST communities based on a report from TISS. We even allocated Rs 10,000 for that purpose. The government has taken a pro-Dhangar stance in court cases. However, reservation cannot be granted without following the statutory procedure laid down by the Constitution. We will complete the necessary procedures to ensure the community receives the benefits of reservations," he said.
DCM Ajit Pawar mentioned that the government will seek the opinion of the Attorney General of India and ensure that sufficient funds are allocated for the community's schemes.