Mumbai's Azad Maidan turned into a sea of saffron today as thousands of people demanding reservations for the Maratha community gathered here in what was their 58th protest in a year. Wearing saffron caps and carrying flags, the protesters walked down south Mumbai's JJ flyover, which was closed for vehicular traffic, winding their way to the protest venue.
At the Jijamata Udyan, where the Maratha morcha began at 11 AM, protesters tore banners put up by the Shiv Sena, stressing that they did not want any "political interference".
Rajya Sabha member Chhatrapati Sambhaji Raje told reporters at Azad Maidan he was participating in the march not as a Member of Parliament but as an "ordinary member" of the Maratha community.
Bollywood actor Riteish Deshmukh also voiced his support to the protest march with a late night tweet. "Ek Maratha, Lakh Maratha," the actor tweeted in Marathi, referring to a popular slogan.
At Azad Maidan, a morcha participant -- dressed like Chhatrapati Shivaji -- was heard extolling the virtues of a "government of the people and for the people", as practised by the Maratha king.
Ishanvi Deshmukh, a three-year-old girl, impressed the gathering with a well-memorised speech seeking reservations for the Maratha community.
Some residents of Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district, where the brutal rape and murder in July 2016 of a 14-year-old girl belonging to the community triggered massive protests across the state, also participated in today's morcha.
Also present at the venue was Manohar Anandrao Patil from Latur district, who said he had participated in all the 58 Maratha morchas till date.
The first protest was held in Aurangabad on August 9 last year.
Another protester came to the venue in the attire of a farmer in distress, with a noose dangling from his neck.
"This is an attempt to draw the government's attention to the plight of farmers," he said.
All parking areas in Navi Mumbai were full as morcha participants coming from across Maharashtra parked their vehicles on vacant lots.
The protesters have been demanding reservation in jobs and educational institutions for members of the Maratha community, punishment for culprits in the Kopardi case and loan waivers for farmers.