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Smarting from the Lok Sabha poll debacle, the ruling Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra has approved 16% reservation for Marathas and 5% for Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions across the state.
This decision by the state cabinet on Wwednesday, four months ahead of the assembly polls, raises the overall quota to 73% in the state, leaving only 27% jobs and seats for those from the open category.
The last Lok Sabha results showed the Marathas – they constitute 32% of the state’s population – and Muslims (10.6%) largely deserted the Congress-NCP that they had traditionally supported. While the NCP won four of the 48 parliamentary seats, the Congress managed two.
The nod for quota for the two politically dominant categories, on discussion mode since 2004, is thus seen as a sop by the alliance in a desperate bid to retain power.
Officials said the government created two special categories to justify the reservations over and above the existing 52% reservation. The decision is expected to be challenged in court.
Maharashtra is the third state after Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to cross the reservation barrier of 50%.
The quota step came within a week of NCP chief Sharad Pawar complaining to the Congress top brass and seeking a change in leadership unless decisions like Maratha reservation were taken swiftly. Under pressure from NCP, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan went ahead with the move despite having expressed concern about legal implications of the decision.
The BJP, which has been wooing the Maratha community, supported the reservation for them but criticised the move to provide quota to Muslims as ‘vote-bank politics’ and unconstitutional.
“This is misleading for the Muslims. The decision to grant them reservation will not stand legal scrutiny. This kind of vote-bank politics is not going to work,” said Vinod Tawde, opposition leader in the legislative council.
Chavan defended the decision. “We have sufficient data to prove social and educational backwardness of these communities. The Maratha reservation is based on the recommendation of the panel led by senior minister Narayan Rane. For Muslims, we relied on the Sachar, Rangnath Mishra and Mehmood ur Rahman (state-commissioned) panel reports,” he said.
He added that the quota for Muslims was not on the basis of their backwardness and not their religion.
Political scientists said the ruling alliance’s gamble might pay dividends in the assembly polls, as challenging the decision could backfire on the opposition.