Reacting to the Maharashtra government's approval to reservation for Marathas and Muslims, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar said on Thursday that his party will "certainly take advantage" of the decision in the upcoming assembly elections, adding he was no saint.
Following a humiliating defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress-NCP coalition government in the state had approved 16% reservation for Marathas and 5% for Muslims in government jobs and educational institutes across the state on Wednesday.
"If the decision (of reservation) benefits us in the elections, we will certainly take the advantage. Are we a gang of sadhus (saints)?" said Pawar, while speaking in Karad, around 150km from Pune.
Marathas (32% of the state's population) and Muslims (10.6% of the population) have traditionally rallied around the ruling NCP-Congress alliance. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appeared to have managed to dent the ruling alliance's vote base in the general elections. While the Congress managed to bag just two, the NCP won just four of the 48 seats in the state.
Against such a backdrop, the reservation proposal was okayed, even though it was under consideration for several years. Assembly elections in Maharashtra are slated for October.
The state government's fresh move took the overall reservation percentage in the state to 73, exceeding the Supreme Court's cap of 50.
Replying to a query on if the government's move was aimed at reaping benefits in the assembly polls, Pawar used Marathi proverbs to make it clear that the issue will benefit the ruling alliance.
"Takala jaun bhand kashala lapavaycha (Why should one deny when it is very clear)?"
Pawar added there was a demand for reservation from all quarters and the government was expected to act on it. "Tomorrow, if it helps us politically, let it be so."
Opposition BJP slammed the government following Pawar's comments. "The government has taken a decision without proper preparations. It may not stand test in the legal scrutiny. Pawar's remarks only show the move was taken in haste with political considerations," BJP leader Vinod Tawade said.
Interestingly, the Maharashtra government has started taking preparations for a legal battle, as officials fear that the decision will be challenged at some point.
Pawar is no stranger to controversy. Referring to the multi-phase polling in the general elections, Pawar had told some party workers to vote at two places — in their hometowns and where they stayed, drawing the election commission's ire.