Chants of ‘Ek Maratha, laakh Maratha (one Maratha, lakhs of Marathas)’ reverberated in the air as the Maratha Arakashan Morcha led by activist Manoj Jarange Patil reached Sancheti Chowk past 7pm on Wednesday.
As a humongous crowd of citizens waited to welcome and get a glimpse of Jarange Patil, agitators spoke about their preparations to stay put in Mumbai where the activist would begin his hunger strike on January 26 to press his demand for reservation for the Maratha community.
Trucks and tempos accompanying the morcha were stocked up with cylinders, water bottles, oil, ration and mattresses. “We haven’t seen arrangements of this level even during the pilgrimage taken out by Warkaris to Pandharpur during Ashadhi Ekadashi. People have packed pithla-bhakri, the staple diet of Maharashtrians with them.
When we wake up, there are tea and poha stalls ready. Hotels and residents of all cities are welcoming us with a lot of hospitality,” said Balaji Mohite (31), a resient of Parbhani.
An 18-year-old carrying a flag said, “We won’t go back till we get reservation. So far, we haven’t faced any incoveniece.”
Krushna Laxmanrao Sukre, another resident from Parbhani, who has made a house out of his tempo, said, “If need be, another tempo will come from our village. We will stay put in Mumbai till we don’t get reservation.”
Prasad Ganeshrao from Antarwali Saraati in Jalna district had 15 to 16 people with him in their tempo. “We are ready to do whatever Patil says. He had asked us to give a strong fight and so we will.”
Santosh Argade from Viganwadi village of Beed district said he was travelling with 15 people from his village, who came with basic staple such as wheat and rice and a handful of winter clothes.
“I have completed my graduation in BA and gave committment to Jarange Bhau. People from other community pay Rs 2.5 lakhs for getting admission in MBBS. We have to pay around Rs 9 lakh, which we cannot afford,” said Argade.
“We have kept our farming activities on hold for this rally. We have made arrangement to sleep inside the vehicle…,” added Argade.
Jairam Kokate, a farmer aged around 65 years from Viganwadi, said he has been involved in the reservation movement since the 90s after the formation of the Mandal Commission but no political party or any person has been as active as Jarange Patil. “I have been to various movements related to reservation but this is huge. We have committed not to leave the rally till a final decision is taken,” he said.
“I thank all the people from our village who contributed small amounts in their individual capacity to rent a vehicle and purchase ration. Since most of the people in our village are farmers, they contributed by donating food,” said Kokate.
Manik Kadwane, a farmer from Bhilegaon village, said he received news about his brother’s wife’s death. “I received a call from a relative informing me about my elder brother’s wife’s unexpected demise. Though I am sad for this loss, I have committed myself to this rally, recognizing the impact that reservation for our community will bring to our future generations.”