Saturday, February 7, 2009

The March of the Backwards

For all those who want to know in what proportion of religion, caste and community we the people of Maharashtra are divided, here are the numbers from the mouth of the horse-- Mr Chhagan Bhujbal, our back again deputy chief minister. The figures appeared on the front page of "Loksatta", in a report about a non-Maratha delegation's visit to Bhujbal to protest against the Maratha demand for reservation. (Yes, the Marathas are demanding reservations in education, jobs and politics, based on the claim that they are as Backward as your oil-presser, your weaver and your gardener. The trouble of course is that in India you have to be born Backward, the way you have to be born brahmin, adivasi or dalit. You can't claim Backwardness just by being backward.)

So here are the figures that came as a non-sequitur to a delegation member's whimper, "If some other people (read Marathas) are asking for 25 per cent of the 27 per cent OBC quota, are the OBCs, who count for 54 per cent of the population, to remain satisfied with only 2 per cent of the reservations?" Bhujbal's reply, "Basically it is wrong to suppose that OBCs form only 54 per cent of the population. OBCs form 54 per cent (sic), scheduled castes and tribes 20 per cent, Muslims 14 per cent. That makes 85 per cent (sic). The remaining 15 per cent are poor brahmins, Christians and others."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but those numbers add up to 103. So either Maharashtra has an XL pie or somebody's going to be diddled out of 3 per cent reservations. Anyway, this is how the demand progressed.

As a start, Vinayak Mete set his boys on Kumar Ketkar, the editor of Loksatta, because he'd had had the temerity to suggest in a front page article, that a statue of Shivaji in the middle of the Arabian Sea, should not be of prime concern to a State that was full of suicidal farmers and malnourished children. To Ketkar, the fact that this statue was going to be taller even than the Statue of Liberty, appeared to have counted for nothing.

Vinayak Mete got his pictures in the papers all right. This gave him the confidence to ride out into the countryside astride Shivaji's horse, awakening a sense of grievance amongst the Marathas. At the end of the road show, he appeared on huge arches spanning three entrances to Shivaji Park. He stood tall, in immaculate white, on the left hand panel of every arch, nicely balancing Shivaji Maharaj on the other side. His call to fellow Marathas was straight from the heart: "If you are indeed Shivaji's heirs, then this is the time to forget all differences, political, social and economic. Give up one day, just this one day for the future, welfare and asmita of the Marathas, by coming to Shivaji Park in your lakhs." Mercifully for the much abused Shivaji Park, they only came in their thousands.Unfazed, Mete delivered his ultimatum to the government. Concede that we are Backward, give us the reservations we demand, or be damned.

Today was the deadline Mete gave the government. I have scanned all the papers. Do we see pictures of the gathering of stones, the unsheathing of swords? Not a sign. All the newsprint has been swallowed up by that rank outsider Pramod Muthalik of Mangalore. But we must beware. A voice once raised is not so easily silenced. Vinayak Mete's sword now joins other swords that already hang over our heads--the MNS's newly sharpened one and the Shiv Sena's antique Bhavani being the most active. You never know when any one of these will fall and behead the peace we are struggling so constantly to maintain.

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