CM and government’s relative inexperience, an expectation-reality mismatch and its political machinations are factors seen fuelling protests.
Mumbai: A young and inexperienced chief minister, a mismatch between sky-high expectations and the tepid reality, and political machinations by the opposition as well as the ruling alliance are being blamed for the frequent crises faced by Maharashtra’s BJP-led government.
At least five different pressure groups — Marathas, Dalits, OBCs, farmers and tribals — have taken to the streets to express their grievances in three of the four years chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has ruled the state.
The latest round of protests by the Marathas, who have been agitating in waves since 2016, has directly targeted Fadnavis, pressing for his resignation.
A young CM, inexperienced cabinet and lack of timely action
Fadnavis is the second-youngest CM of Maharashtra, having been 44 when he took over. He is a fourth-term MLA, has been a corporator, a mayor and the state BJP chief, but had no prior ministerial experience before assuming the top post. Barring a few, a majority in his cabinet are also fresh faces.
One of the main reasons that angered the Maratha community was the CM’s statement about the possibility of certain Maratha organisations disrupting the annual wari (pilgrimage) at Pandharpur in Maharashtra’s Solapur district.
The CM said he will not perform Lord Vitthal’s puja at Pandharpur, breaking tradition as police intercepted messages about the possibility of some people releasing snakes among devotees and creating a stampede.
Maratha leaders said this statement was hurtful to a community that had organised nearly 60 silent protests and has had a long tradition of respecting and supporting warkaris (devotees of Lord Vitthal).
“It would have sufficed for the CM to simply say that he does not plan to attend the annual puja at Pandharpur this year in the interest of the people. There was no need to provoke anyone with talk of snakes and stampedes,” said Prakash Bal, a political analyst.
“This government keeps facing the people’s wrath because its leaders are not astute at knowing how much to say, what to say and when to say it,” he added.
Like Fadnavis, his senior-most minister Chandrakant Patil too was embroiled in a controversy over his comments on how certain people were paid to infiltrate the protests. Patil later apologised, but said he was misquoted.
Analysts say even as one expects a state government to have prior intelligence inputs, this government has often failed to take timely action and allowed the situation to get out of hand.
For instance, a week after the farmers, mostly tribals, took out a “long march” from Nashik to Mumbai in March, then state agriculture minister Pandurang Fundkar told ThePrint that there had been no dialogue with the farmers.
Similarly, Dalit leaders and politicians from across parties also targeted the government over its “failure” to anticipate the 1 January Bhima-Koregaon violence, when lakhs of Dalits gathered to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle. Even in the recent Maratha protests, there were early signs of violence, but the government failed to take preventive action, analysts say.
Political observer Surendra Jondhale said there was frustration under the previous Congress-NCP government as well, but it was dormant. The BJP’s electoral assertiveness raised people’s expectations.
“Through 2014 and 2015, people were patient. They saw a lot of promise in this government since it was a stable government, but the high expectations soon gave way to frustration,” Jondhale said.
“The character of all these movements has been such that these are people on the margin raising real political and social issues, but there has been no proper political response from the government,” he added.
Consolidation of all political parties, including BJP’s ally Shiv Sena despite being a partner in the government, against the BJP has further fuelled these protests.
“The Shiv Sena raising issues against the BJP-led government in public has contributed to creating political discomfort for the BJP,” Jondhale said.
Shiv Sena was at the forefront during the farmers’ protests for a loan waiver, land acquisition for CM Fadnavis’ pet project — Mumbai-Nagpur expressway — and the proposed oil refinery at Nanar in Ratnagiri district.
Political analyst Pratap Asbe said another reason is that this government tries to “milk every protest for political gains”.
“For instance, when farmers protested, the government tried to break their protests by creating divisions between farm leaders and there was an adverse reaction to it.”
In the case of the latest Maratha agitation, the government did not actively prevent the violence with there being a possibility of the Dalits and OBCs consolidating against the Marathas who are seen as having the prominent political narrative.
“Although Marathas comprise 32 per cent, they have never voted as a block and a consolidation of Dalits and OBCs against them might be helpful to the BJP,” Asbe said.
‘Protests as there is hope of govt meeting their demands’
Prashant Bamb, a BJP MLA from Gangapur constituency in the Aurangabad district said, “There were fewer such protests under the Congress-NCP government because people had no expectations of their demands being fulfilled.”
“There was a lot of expectation from this government and in the first two years, various socio-economic groups saw that the government is addressing their issues if they raise their voices,” he claimed.
The Gangapur taluka, in a way, was the epicentre of the recent Maratha protests. The Maratha youth who died by jumping into the Godavari River, following which violent protests broke out in parts of Maharashtra, belonged to the Kaygaon village in Gangapur.
Bamb said the mismatch is between the pace at which demands are piling up before the government and the speed of fulfilling them. “There are practical and monetary constraints of the government,” he pointed out.
“Wherever possible, like in case of the farm loan waiver, the government gives immediate relief. But these constraints need to be communicated to people better,” he added.
A BJP legislator who did not wish to be named said much of this backlash, which has even been violent at times, has been because leaders of opposition parties, including the senior ones, often make immature comments.
“They are truly responsible for the creation of any anti-CM sentiment or even stirring violence,” he said.
BJP minister Subhash Deshmukh said protests used to take place even during the Congress-NCP regime, but they have become more vocal now because people are confident that this government will address their demands.
“Even in the case of the Maratha protests, the government has addressed almost all demands that the community leaders had made in a memorandum to the government on 9 August 2017,” he said.
“The only issue that remains is reservations, and for that too the government is constantly following up on the issue so that the decision can stand in court,” the minister claimed.
Deshmukh, the state’s cooperation minister, also rubbished statements that cabinet ministers are “inexperienced” to handle such situations.
“Whenever any group protests over any issue, we first study the issue in detail and then decide how to approach it so that people can get justice as efficiently as possible,” he said.