In a video from August last year, of Maratha activists interacting with Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, is a man unsuccessfully trying to put his point across as both his frame and voice get drowned in the crowd. It took merely a year for the tide to change. On Wednesday, September 14, the Chief Minister gave in to the Maratha activist’s demand and visited Jalna, handing him a glass of juice to end his 17-day-long “indefinite hunger strike” for reservation for the Maratha community in jobs and education.
Days earlier, on September 12, after 15 days of his strike, during which some of the top politicians in the state made a beeline to meet him, Manoj Jarange Patil had announced that he would withdraw his agitation and gave the state government a month to sign in on his demands. “We have waited for 40 years. Our experts also said it takes time for the procedure (of giving reservations) to be completed… We will call the government and give them time. But if our demands are not fulfilled, we will again start the protest from the 31st day,” he said from the protest site in Jalna.
Patil laid down a few other conditions – a personal visit and a glass of juice from the CM, withdrawal of cases registered against Maratha protesters and suspension of police officials who issued orders to lathicharge Maratha protesters in Jalna on September 1 and a written assurance from the government on the quota issue, among others.
The lean figure who tried desperately to be heard by the CM that day had finally set his terms, taking on the government on the prickly issue of quota.
For a veteran of several uneventful hunger strikes – mostly seeking quota for the nearly 33 per cent Maratha population in the state – including one agitation that lasted over a month, the attention he got this time left many perplexed.
NCP’s OBC leader and Cabinet minister Chhagan Bhujbal says it was the lathicharge of September 1 that turned the tide in Patil’s favour. “The current Maratha protest would not have become so serious had police handled the situation more carefully. The lathicharge was unfortunate.”
OBC Jan Morcha president Prakash Shendge, who has been opposing reservation to the Maratha community under the 19 per cent currently set aside for OBCs, says Patil’s “rise is surprising”.
“He shot into the limelight suddenly. In the past we have had Maratha Kranti Morcha leaders such as Abha Patil, Vinod Patil and others. Even when the agitation was at peak, in 2016-2018, we never heard about his leadership. Where was he then? From what we understand, he was working in his village. The manner in which he is now dictating terms to the state government is appalling,” he added.
A non-player who shot to fame
Born in Matori village in Maharashtra’s Beed district, in Class 12, Patil dropped out of the zilla parishad school he was in to help his father Raosaheb Jarange Patil and mother Prabhavati with farming and odd jobs around the house. After his marriage to Saumitra, he moved to Ambad taluka in neighbouring Jalna district in the hope of “better prospects”.
In Ambad, where Patil, 41, tilled his two acres and also worked in a hotel to supplement his income, like a lot of other youngsters in the Marathwada region, his energies were largely focussed on the hero-worship surrounding Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji and his son Sambhaji Maharaj.
While he was associated with the Congress at the taluka level, in 2011, he left the party and started Shivba Sangathana, an outfit with the stated aim of campaigning for the rights of Marathas. At the Shivba Sangathan, Patil would take the lead in organising the birth anniversaries of Shivaji and Sambhaji Maharaj. These are usually high-voltage events in these parts, marked by speeches and cultural programmes.
In his white shirt and trousers and sporting a red tilak, Patil soon came to be known for his blunt speeches. Patil once also got NCP MP Amol Kolhe to play the role of Sambhaji Maharaj in a play that he organised in Ambad.
Though Patil and his Sangathan have never been counted in the league of the bigger leaders of the Maratha Kranti Morcha (MKM), an umbrella outfit of Maratha organisations that has been spearheading the quota protests, Patil is seen as an aggressive and vocal voice of the community.
Rajendra Kondhare of the MKM says, “Until now, Jarange-Patil’s activities were largely confined to his villages and district, but he is a committed Maratha activist.”
The July 2016 rape and killing of a 15-year-old Maratha girl in Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district would prove to be a turning point for the MKM and other Maratha outfits as they rallied around and planned an all-out agitation for quota.
Between 2016 and 2018, through his Sangathan, Patil campaigned in villages for Maratha reservation. During this period, Patil’s activism is known to have been confined to villages in the larger Marathwada region. He is even known to have mortgaged his land and house in Ambad to raise funds for the cause.
Members of his Shivba Sangathan allegedly barged into the premises of the court hearing the Kopardi case, raising slogans, demanding capital punishment and attacking the four accused youths.
A senior Cabinet minister from the Marathwada region, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “The Maratha agitation (2016-2018) propped up hundreds of local leaders. Since the MKM was a largely leaderless organisation with no mainstream political party leading it, it gave opportunities to hundreds of community youth to emerge as local leaders. Jaranage Patil was just one of them.”
An MKM activist who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “Jarange Patil’s role in the 2017-18 Maratha reservation agitation was that of a foot soldier. He was a non-player. He became popular overnight in the state because of the police lathicharge on protesters on September 1.”
A lathicharge and sudden attention
In April this year, when Patil announced his decision to go on an indefinite fast at Ambad in Jalna, seeking quota for Marathas, the move didn’t create much of a flutter.
For one, his agitational style of politics has often proved short-lived. In 2014, he led a big morcha to the district collector’s office in Aurangabad. Another demonstration he held at Pimpalgaon in Jalna in 2021 saw Maratha activists sitting in dharna. But these protests would usually wind up with assurances from local leaders.
But this time was different. For one, with elections a year away and political equations in the state still very fluid, the government would have wanted to take no chances. So a month after Patil announced his decision to go on yet another fast, in May, Chief Minister Shinde CM held a meeting at Mantralaya, where Patil was assured that the state government would set up a committee to work on how to restore the Maratha reservation that had been struck down by the Supreme Court in May 2021.
The government also assured him that the committee would give its report within three months, by August 29.
With no communication from the state government on his demands, on August 29, Patil launched his “indefinite fast” at Antarwalli Sarati village in Jalna district. He had earlier organised the Maratha Jan Akrosh Morcha at Ambad in Jalna, but sources say the district administration and local ministers didn’t take it too seriously. This, they say, upset Patil, who then announced his indefinite fast. Before going on the hunger strike, he had toured nearby villages seeking people’s support for the protest.
In the beginning, however, Patil’s hunger strike barely drew crowds. But that changed on September 1 when protesters at the site clashed with the police, leading to a lathicharge, with injuries on both sides and buses being set on fire.
As images of the violence went viral, the Maratha activists doubled down on their protests.
A MKM coordinator from Beed says, “When Jarange Patil went on protest we never thought it would continue for so long. Many of us ignored the protest. But after the police cracked down on people, there was a sharp reaction. Using social media, we organised protests in villages, talukas and cities.”
Congress’s Vijay Waddetiwar, who is Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly, said, “The state government should have tackled the Maratha agitation more carefully. The police lathicharge on protesters evoked sympathy in Jarange Patil’s favour.”
Suddenly, all roads led to Patil’s protest site in Jalna. NCP president Sharad Pawar was among the first of the top state leaders to meet Patil and express his solidarity. He was followed by MNS chief Raj Thackeray and Shiv Sena (UBT) president Uddhav Thackeray. The BJP sent senior Cabinet minister Girish Mahajan and MLA Nitesh Rane to persuade Jarange Patil to end the fast, but in vain.
The attention only strengthened Patil’s protest as he placed before the government hard demands such as issuing Kunbi certificates to Marathas across Maharashtra.
The government responded swiftly to assuage Martha sentiments – and Patil’s – with CM Shinde and Deputy CMs Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar holding an all-party meeting and requesting Patil to withdraw his fast. “We requested him to give time to the Justice Shinde committee (on giving Kunbi certificates to Marathas) and have also agreed to include him or his representative in the committee. It was also agreed to suspend three officials responsible for lathicharge, expressing apology over the lathicharge incident,” Shinde said.
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With Patil deciding to withdraw his hunger strike, the government may have got a breather, but given the heated political scene in the state, his seemingly sudden emergence on the scene has set off speculation on where his political loyalties lie.
Sources point to how the presence of Hindutva leader Sambhaji Bhide at Patil’s protest site on September 12, the day he ended his fast, had raised eyebrows. Others point to how Patil had initially praised Shinde and attacked Fadnavis, but has not uttered a word against Ajit Pawar so far.
For now, after an “indefinite” fast that wound up as fast as it began, and having taken on the government, Patil is keeping everyone guessing.
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