| (Top) Rahul Bajaj being felicitated in Mumbai where pro-reservation activists (above) demonstrated against the industrialist on Saturday. (AP)
Mumbai, June 10: After Ratan Tata, it was Rahul Bajaj’s turn today to face anti-quota protesters at a felicitation.
The venue was the same: the PL Deshpande Kala Academy at Prabhadevi in Mumbai, where Tata was heckled a month ago.
Rahul Bajaj chale jao, the students shouted, as the Bajaj Auto chairman rose to accept an award for his contribution to the state’s development.
Organised by the little-known Samatawadi Chhatra Bharati, the protest lasted barely a few minutes as police whisked away the students, banners and all. “We arrested 17 students of this Mumbai-based group which has been demanding reservation for the OBCs under the Bombay Police Act. They were released on personal bonds,” senior inspector Vilas Marathe of Dadar police station said.
The award ceremony continued uninterrupted.
Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s son Riteish, an actor, was among the six people honoured by the Marathwada Lok Vikas Manch.
But papa Deshmukh, who was to be the chief guest, gave the event a miss, possibly worried about being linked with Bajaj ahead of the June 15 Rajya Sabha election.
The industrialist’s nomination with the support of ally NCP and the Opposition Shiv Sena and BJP had upset the ruling Congress. Bajaj, who has been very vocal about his opposition to the Centre’s reservation policy, filed his nomination this week for the seat that fell vacant after Pramod Mahajan’s death.
The Congress has fielded its own candidate.
In his speech, Bajaj avoided a direct reference to the pro-quota protest but said the Swaminarayan temple at Wardha in Marathawada built by his grandfather Jamnalal Bajaj was the first to allow entry of backward classes.
He was also at pains to underline the Bajaj family’s close association with the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhis. Even his name ' Rahul ' was given by Jawaharlal Nehru.
Caught in the crossfire between the Congress and the NCP ' the coming together of Sharad Pawar’s party with the BJP and Sena has triggered speculation about their long-term plans ' Bajaj insisted he had no animosity towards any party. “I have nothing to do with differences between political parties. I am independent and want support from all political parties,” he said.
On May 9, a pro-quota group had staged a similar protest against Tata Sons chairman Rata Tata when he was being honoured with the state’s highest civilian award.
While Bajaj has been targeted for opposing reservation for OBCs in education institutions, Tata had come under attack because he is against job quotas in the private sector.