MUMBAI: The Maharashtra unit of the BJP on Saturday held 'chakka jam' or road blockade protests across the state demanding restoration of reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBC) in local governing bodies which was quashed by the Supreme Court in March this year.
The party had announced that it would hold agitation at 1,000 locations across the state.
Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Devendra Fadnavis participated in a protest in his home district Nagpur, while Leader of Opposition in the Council Pravin Darekar took part in an agitation in Thane, due to which traffic on the road connecting the city with Mumbai affected for some time.
Addressing BJP workers in Nagpur, Fadnavis said his party will restore reservation for OBCs in local bodies if given power, and if not, he will retire from politics.
"The fact is that this issue can be resolved at the state level. The state government can restore the reservation by formulating a law. There is no need for any act of the Central government. That is why OBC reservation is prevalent in other states except in Maharashtra. You (MVA) will have to make a law. We will not stop until we expose their lie. This protest is held to condemn this government on the issue," he said.
Fadnavis, who represents Nagpur South-West seat in the Assembly, said OBCs are being purposely deprived of the political reservation.
"I want to appeal to all the OBC ministers in the MVA government. There is no enmity between us and them. If you are honest towards the cause of the OBCs then regardless of party lines we are ready to stand with you. I want to tell you with full confidence that within the next three to four months we can bring back the OBC reservation. If you give us power.....I want to tell you with confidence that if I fail to bring back the political reservation for OBCs, I will retire from politics," the former chief minister said.
Former minister Pankaja Munde, who led a protest in Pune, said if the BJP's demand are not met, the party will launch bigger protests in future.
The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in the state has failed to retain political reservation for the OBCs, which is necessary for the community's uplift, she said.
Munde alleged the state government kept deferring various elections, including those in the cooperative sector, when the case regarding the OBC reservation was pending in the court, and it was only after the court scrapped the quota, the elections were announced.
"We are demanding that the OBC reservation be restored and till then no elections should be held. We want the government to approach the Election Commission along with us with a demand to postpone elections," she said.
"If the elections are held without the OBC reservation, then we will resort to bigger protests. This 'chakka jam' protest is just a trailer," she added.
Munde alleged the state government was trying to muzzle the voice of OBCs by depriving them of quota in local bodies.
"The Supreme Court's decision should not be viewed as a defeat. We will continue our battle for the quota and try to get it back by mounting pressure on the state government," she said.
Former minister and BJP MLA Ashish Shelar said the BJP has decided to intensify the agitation in the coming days.
"We will not retreat even if more than 1,000 party workers are arrested by the state police," he said.
Another BJP leader and former state minister Girish Mahajan and MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha held a protest outside Mantralaya, the state secretariat in Mumbai, over the issue.
The BJP-Shiv Sena government in 2019 had allotted political reservation to OBCs in local governing bodies, but in March this year, the Supreme Court had read it down.
The BJP has alleged that the case was lost only because of the inaction of the Shiv Sena-led MVA government, in which NCP and Congress are partners.
The State Election Commission had announced bypolls at Dhule, Nandurbar, Washim, Akola and Nagpur districts, and there are 85 seats of Zilla Parishad and 144 panchayat samiti seats for which elections is going to be held.
The BJP on Friday demanded that the state government approach the Supreme Court immediately requesting that the ZP bypolls be deferred in five districts.
Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakant Patil challenged OBC leaders in the state government for a public debate with Fadnavis on the issue "so that truth will come out".
"Senior leaders and ministers like Chhagan Bhujbal who have been the face of the OBC community for some years should debate why the OBC quota was read down by the Supreme Court in March this year. He should join a debate with Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis at a public function so that everyone will come to know what the truth is," Patil told reporters in Kolhapur.
Patil said state OBC welfare minister Vijay Wadettiwar or state Congress chief Nana Patole can join the debate, if it is not possible for Bhujbal to participate.
"People will come to know who made the mistake," he added.
"This MVA government did nothing during the last 15 hearings before the Supreme Court (on OBC quota issue). It did not submit the empirical data hence the court verdict went against the OBC reservation. The state can still set up a backward commission and prepare empirical data," he said.
Patil said this government had taken several decisions that went against various communities and groups.
"The government has lost cases for OBC and Maratha quotas in the Supreme Court. This government also cancelled the reservation quota in promotion in the state administration," he added.