Riots in Maharashtra: What happened and why?

Bhimarao- Koregaon, Violence in Maharashtra
As India celebrated New year, in Maharashtra the arrival of 2018 was marked by riots
and caste violence.Violence erupted between Dalits celebrating the Koregaon Victory and people
allegedly belonging to right-wing Hindu Nationalist groups. The victory of
Koregaon is being celebrated ever since Dr. Br Ambedkar started it in 1927. Is it
reason enough to cause riots between Dalits and Marathas? Let us find out, by taking a dive into Politics of Maharashtra in which caste is a dominant factor.

Political history of Maharashtra
The state of Maharashtra consists of about 32% of Maratha community, about 4% brahmins and about 11% Dalits.
Both Marathas and Dalits have historically been voter base of the Congress party.Bjp had its base in primarily Brahmins, the upper caste and educated upper class.And Shiv Sena derived its base from working class, people who were unemployed and lower-middle-class Marathas. Before mid-nineties, most of Maharashtra was primarily rural and agricultural community. The rural Marathas were
greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and the freedom movement. Thousands of Maratha families had taken part in Satyagrahas led by Congress. It was this connect
which Congress had with a Rural community of Maharashtra comprising mainly of
Marathas and Dalits due to which Indian national congress was able to remain in
power from 1960 to 1995. But Bjp or Shiv Sena had no such connection and also the
pro-nationalist or Hindutva ideology was not what rural community identified with. But
it was issues like draughts, crops, debts, prices in local markets and so on. Hence
Bjp and Shiv Sena were kept at bay from the Rural community and hence also from a
majority of Dalits and Marathas. A very strong anti-Brahaman sentiment was another
reason for continuous victories of INC. Every good story needs a good villain. The
Brahmins from Maharashtra had dominated the politics of state and nation for the
18th century and early 19th century. During the British rule, the Brahmins had access
to good English education and that is why they became ruling elite. The result of this
was that political space in national politics and later seats of power and authority in
government were dominated by the Brahmins. And so after 1960 INC saw Brahmins
perfect for the role of villain. And with Brahmins in the role of villain INC was able to
unite Marathas and Dalits against the oppression of the villain i.e Brahmins. This
allowed the Maratha community access to power, due to which it not only became
strong economically but also became the ruling class. Almost all of the leaders and ministers from the INC are Marathas. Such was the hegemony of Marathas in state
politics that there was only one minister who was Brahmin from 1960-1999 and none
from 1999-2014. However, Brahmins remained active in politics in RSS and RSS
related organizations. But after mid-nineties, as the urbanization of Maharashtrian
community took place there was a shift in loyalties of Marathas who thought
Congress would no longer be able to maintain power. Bjp and Shiv Sena were hence
able to make some penetrations in voter base of Congress and also able to make
government from 1995-1999. However, the formation of NCP by Sharad Pawar an
eminent Maratha leader ensured that the Maratha vote bank remained split between
NCP and INC. And that is why a coalition government of INC and NCP ruled the state
from 1999-2014. But despite the hegemony in ruling class, it was a small section of
Marathas which enjoyed this power and grew richer and richer. The majority of the
section of Marathas still consists of working class, landless peasants, and small
landholding farmers. The most number of suicides in Maharashtra are also from this
section. But as the Brahmins were marginalized for such long time in state politics
they could no longer be given the role of villain. So the role of villain was now
transferred to the Dalits. Because the rhetoric that Dalits are taking your jobs due to
reservation appealed to the majority of the Marathas who are economically weak but
have no access to the reservation. This was one among many factors which helped
the formation of the coalition government of BJP and Shiv Sena in the state.
However, the formation of this government is also seen as coming of Brahmin
leaders to the forefront after many decades of exile as the present Chief Minister
Davindera Fandavis is also a Brahmin.
Since 2014 now the Marathas have been ousted from power. Last two years have
seen a huge Maratha uprising which isn’t being talked about anywhere in the media.
The demands are reservation in jobs and the withdrawal of the Sc and St atrocities
act which was passed to protect Dalits from insult, abuse or use of violence in local
judicial bodies like panchayats. This demand came up as a Maratha girl was raped
and murdered by Dalit youth. And Marathas feel Dalit use this act as cover. There is
also anger about the present agrarian crisis in the state, low crop prices and farmer
suicides. So facing a crisis the lower and middle-class Marathas have been marching
in numbers ranging in lakhs. The upper-class Marathas have also joined in to get
back the power they lost in 2014. Dalits consisting majority of the Mahar community
feel that this is anger is directed towards them so they too have been coming out in
large numbers as a show of strength. Due to this, the tensions between two
communities have been running high in the state throughout 2017.

Putting 2019 elections into context
The state of Maharashtra has both general assembly elections and state elections in
2019. There are two possible scenarios that can play out. The opposition i.e INC and
NCP will want to unite Marathas and Dalits their traditional vote base, which will be a
difficult task given the recent tension between the two communities. But they can
make use of fresh anti-Brahmin sentiment and anti-RSS sentiment as posing it as a
common enemy. The ruling party will try to deepen the already existing rift between
Marathas and Dalits to prevent the opposition from achieving their objective.

This is exactly what seems to have happened. When Dalits were en-route on their
way to the venue to celebrate the Koregaon victory they were attacked by a group of
people who had saffron flags. A complaint was registered against Bhide aka Guruji
and Ekaobote both leaders of right-wing Hindu nationalist outfits. A counter
complaint was also registered against Umar Khalid and Jignesh Mevani as rhetoric
from the Bjp government was that it was the speeches given by these leaders the
day before which instigated the violence. It seems as if somebody wanted to take
advantage of already existing tension between Dalits and Marathas to deepen the rift
between the two communities for political gains. And they were rather successful as
now angry Dalits now retaliated by blocking roads and also resorting to violence in
some places. It is crude caste politics that is being played in Maharashtra.

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