The Maratha protest in Mumbai is a sign of a growing unrest across the country
Wednesday’s rally in Mumbai is actually of a piece with protests by other dominant castes across the country – the Patel-Patidars in Gujarat, the Jats in Haryana, the Gujjars in Rajasthan, and the Kapus in Andhra Pradesh. But providing reservation by tweaking or adding to quotas will not work over the long term.editorials Updated: Aug 11, 2017 09:48 IST
SoBo, the part of Mumbai that has most of its heritage buildings, the seat of government, and some of the most expensive real estate anywhere in the world, was completely colonised for a few hours on Wednesday by saffron-turbaned Marathas demanding reservation of government jobs and college seats. Their rally was silent but the message was loud and clear. Maharashtra’s chief minister Devendra Fadnavis promptly announced several sops to pacify the Marathas, but their main demand for reservation is before the Bombay High Court, which is yet to decide on a petition challenging the 16% quota for the community announced by the previous government.
This brings us to the crux of the issue: Why do the land-owing Marathas want reservation, which is mean to help socially and economically disadvantaged sections? After all, this is the community that long dominated all walks of life in Maharashtra. Advocates of reservation for Marathas say their land-owning heritage is the cause of their troubles, which have worsened with the agrarian crisis in the state. Fragmentation of land holdings and uncertain crop yields have left a significant number of such farmers unable to pay for their children’s education. This has mean that Maratha youth have struggled to find jobs, a double whammy when coupled with falling farm incomes. Suddenly, the community has found itself falling behind; its pre-eminence especially in the rural areas challenged by other castes. It’s significant that the trigger for the Maratha protests, on since last year, was the rape of a minor girl from the community by Dalit men. Politically too, the Marathas, who accounted for 12 of Maharashtra’s 18 chief ministers, are no more as dominant as they used to be.
Wednesday’s rally in Mumbai is actually of a piece with protests by other dominant castes across the country – the Patel-Patidars in Gujarat, the Jats in Haryana, the Gujjars in Rajasthan, and the Kapus in Andhra Pradesh. Politicians tend to find easy solutions — providing reservation by tweaking existing quotas or adding to quotas. But these will not work over the long term. Why are influential communities in states that are not traditionally seen as backward resorting to agitations for reservation? Is it because income from agriculture is declining and there aren’t enough other employment opportunities? Is it because other groups are increasingly claiming their share of political power? Something is wrong and it needs to be fixed.