Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s claims on Thursday that discussions with a Dhangar community delegation on reservation had been fruitful, failed to placate other community members who resolved to continue protests in different parts of Maharashtra, demanding inclusion in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list.
Earlier on Thursday, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Gopichand Padalkar, an influential Dhangar leader, led a delegation of community leaders which met Mr. Shinde, Deputy CMs Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar and several ministers and top officials.
“The discussions were extremely fruitful. We are close to getting our demands fulfilled,” said Mr. Padalkar
The community is currently in the Vimukta Jati and Nomadic Tribes (VJNT) category and has been agitating for inclusion in the ST category.
Denied by typo
Dhangar leaders in Maharashtra contend that while their community brethren called ‘Dhangad’ in other parts of the country receive ST benefits, those in the State are denied because of a long-standing typographical error.
Mr. Padalkar said the delegation urged the State government to issue a government resolution (GR) awarding certificates to community members which reflects the designation change from ‘Dhangad’ to ‘Dhangar’.
“We told the CM and other leaders and officials that governments in Telangana, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh government had already issued GRs granting ST reservation benefits to Dhangar communities in their respective states. All the Maharashtra government needs to do is change the word ‘Dhangad’ to ‘Dhangar’. This has already been accepted by the State government,” said the BJP leader.
Mr. Padalkar said the Maharashtra government had asked for two months’ from the Dhangar community during which it would set-up a delegation comprised of a government official and members of the Dhangar community who will go to Telangana, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh to study the basis on which the GRs regarding reservation for the community in these states were issued.
Panel to study issue
“This committee will visit these states to study whether the governments of those states had constituted committees to study the Dhangar reservation issue, whether surveys were conducted and so on. The committee will then submit their report to the Maharashtra government, which will then forward it to the Attorney General in New Delhi and seek his guidance. Following this, a GR on upgrading the Dhangar community’s reservation would be issued by the Shinde government,” Mr. Padalkar said.
Remarking that discussions with the Dhangar delegation had been “extremely positive”, Mr. Shinde said the government is considering withdrawing cases against agitators.
“The Dhangar delegation pointed out examples of decisions taken by Telangana, Bihar governments to grant benefits to Dhangars. We will send a team to these states who will provide us a report. After that report, we will send it to the AG and seek his opinion on the matter,” said the CM.
Mr. Padalkar said that if the issue remained unresolved after all this, then a committee would be formed under a retired judge to look into the matter akin to the Justice Shinde commission currently looking into the Maratha reservation issue.
Urging those community members who were still continuing protests to call off their agitation, Mr. Padalkar said: “I think the government has taken note of Dhangar protests in Chondi (in Ahmednagar district), Dahiwadi (in Satara district) and elsewhere in the State. I will personally meet with protestors tomorrow and urge them to withdraw their protests.”
However, Dhangar protestors in Ahmednagar and Satara said the protests would continue till the government gave them written assurances, a number of community leaders stating they had no faith in the BJP-led government.
Before the 2014 Assembly elections, the BJP had lured some leaders of the community with promises of reservation.
Then in 2017, Mr. Fadnavis, who was then CM, had sought the renaming of Solapur University after Punyashlok Ahilyabai Holkar, the 18th Century Maratha queen who ruled Malwa and is revered by members of the Dhangar community.
The BJP then inducted Mahadev Jankar, a prominent Dhangar leader and chief of the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (RSP) and minor BJP ally, into the State cabinet.
It also commissioned the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) to conduct a study into the backwardness of the community.
Ahead of the 2019 elections, a number of parties including the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Prakash Ambedkar-led Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh (later reconstituted as the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi) had batted for reservations for Dhangars in a bid to win support from the community.