Leaders across party lines on Wednesday observed a silent sit-in protest in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur to demand reservation for the Maratha community, reported PTI. This formally launched the state-wide agitation in connection with the reservation.

On May 5, the Supreme Court scrapped a separate reservation in jobs and education for the Marathas, calling it unconstitutional. A five-judge bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan had ruled that there was no extraordinary circumstance that required the Maharashtra government to break the 50% reservation cap.

The sit-in protest in Kolhapur was led by Bharatiya Janata Party’s Rajya Sabha member Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati. It was held at the memorial of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj with MLAs and members of Maratha organisations like Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi leader Prakash Ambedkar taking part in it. Kolhapur guardian minister and Congress leader Satej Patil, state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil and Shiv Sena MP Dhairyashil Mane were also present at the protest.

Mane, who was seen with a saline bottle, said he has recovered from Covid-19 and has stepped out of his house for the cause. “I am ready to go to other places as well to extend my support,” he added.

Shahu Maharaj Chhatrapati, who also addressed the gathering, urged the protest coordinators to take their demands to the prime minister. “We should take our demand to the Prime Minister…Also, we should hold dialogue with the chief minister,” he said.

The protest is being held at a time when Kolhapur district is still feeling the effects of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Kolhapur Superintendent of Police Shailesh Balkawde said that instructions had been given to the organisers to follow Covid-appropriate behaviour during the agitation.

Meanwhile, the state government invited Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati for a dialogue, reported The Indian Express. “The government is positive about resolving the Maratha community’s demands,” said state minister Satej Patil. “On behalf of the chief minister and deputy chief minister, I invite you to hold talks with the government and to find a solution to the demands raised by the community.”

Patil said the government has already taken some steps for the welfare of the Maratha community. “The government spared no effort in meeting the demands raised by the community,” he added.

Earlier this month, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lift the 50% cap on reservation so that members of the Maratha community and Other Backward Class continue to get benefits too. “We presented all the facts, and steps need to be taken for the same,” Thackeray had said. “He intently heard us and we are hopeful that positive steps will be taken.”

On May 31, the Maharashtra government had announced that members of the Maratha community would be accommodated in the 10% quota for Economically Weaker Section. In 2019, the Central government had extended EWS reservation in education and jobs to poorer sections with annual income less than Rs 8 lakh. This is meant for sections of society not covered by any reservation.

The Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government has been criticised for losing the Maratha quota case in the Supreme Court and faces the threat of a massive protest by the groups.