Lakhs of Maratha community members filled the city's streets today as they took their battle for reservation in government jobs and education to the capital of Maharashtra with a massive show of strength. The metropolis turned into a sea of saffron as members of the politically influential community from different parts of the state converged here to press for reservation in government jobs and education among other demands. The Marathas took out a silent march from Jijamata Udyan in Byculla to Azad Maidan in South Mumbai. As the agitators assembled at Azad Maidan, Mumbai's protest hotpsot, a few kilometres away, in Vidhan Bhawan, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced his government would extend to the Maratha community the educational concessions currently given to OBCs. He also said the BJP-led government would form a cabinet sub-committee to review the implementation of various welfare schemes meant for the Maratha community. The announcements were made after Fadnavis held a meeting with representatives of the Maratha community, whose demands have received support from almost the entire political spectrum in the state. A delegation of 40 people, including women, met him at the Vidhan Bhawan this afternoon. The legislature is currently having its monsoon session. Earlier this morning, the Marathas took out their silent march from Jijamata Udyan amid tight security with participants wearing saffron caps and carrying saffron swallowtail flags. Police and traffic personnel were deployed in large numbers to manage the huge inflow of people and the movement of vehicles in Mumbai. Mumbai's famed 'Dabbawalas' (lunchbox deliverymen), majority of whom hail from the Maratha community, also joined the march. This was the 58th march of the community and was held exactly a year after the first such protest in Aurangabad. The march was organised by the Sakal Maratha Samaj, an umbrella organisation of several Maratha groups. According to police, around 3 lakh people took part in the protest march. These 'mook morcha', or silent rallies, were held in various parts of the state following the brutal rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl, belonging to the Maratha community, at Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district in July 2016. The rally ended at Azad Maidan after covering a distance of 10km.
At the venue, the campaigners raised slogans as Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar reached the site. Some said they don't want politicians to interfere. Shelar rubbished reports he was stopped and manhandled at Azad Maidan. In the legislature, lawmakers cutting across party lines shouted slogans demanding quota for the Marathas. Social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter were used to mobilise the community members, the organisers said. Azad Maidan turned into a sea of saffron as multitude of Maratha reservation supporters thronged the venue for the massive protest. The JJ flyover in south Mumbai, which was closed for vehicular traffic, was full of protesters who were carrying saffron flags and winding their way to the venue. Bollywood actor Riteish Deshmukh also displayed his support to the protest march in a late night tweet. "Ek Maratha, Lakh Maratha," the actor tweeted in Marathi. At Azad Maidan, a morcha participant was dressed like Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and was seen extolling the virtues of the 'government of the people and for the people' concept practised by the Maratha king. Another protester came to the venue as a farmer about to commit suicide, with a rope dangling from his neck. "This is an attempt to draw the government's attention to the plight of farmers," he said. Young girls and women were at the forefront in addressing the protesters at Azad Maidan.