Until recently, they were at the receiving end from their parties; now they are giving jitters to everyone over future political realignments.
The new found friendship between the state’s two senior Other Backward Class (OBC) leaders and political rivals, Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Gopinath Munde, is creating a flutter in political circles.
Munde met Bhujbal, a senior Nationalist Congress Party leader, at the latter’s house on Tuesday to celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision to implement reservations for OBCs in local self-government institutions such as panchayats and zilla parishads.
“Today’s apex court decision is a welcome step because it provides a judicial, statutory support to the movement of the OBCs for justice,” Bhujbal said. “Caste-based census can give us an accurate figure of OBC population. That’s vital for any government intervention for the deprived community.’’
Maharashtra has 27 per cent reservations for OBCs in local self-government institutions including municipal corporations. Observers feel the 30-minute closed-door meeting, dubbed as a courtesy call, could be a sign of future political alignments. “Both the leaders have been sidelined within their parties and are looking at alternatives,” said political analyst B. Venkatesh Kumar. “The message they are sending out is that they are a force to reckon with and should get their due. Otherwise, they have not ruled out the possibility of coming together.”
Both, Munde and Bhujbal, were cornered in their parties and are trying to ramping up their image as national OBC leaders. Though Bhujbal was made deputy chief minister after the 2009 elections, NCP Chief Sharad Pawar’s nephew, Ajit, is eyeing his post. A sizeable section in the Maratha-dominated NCP is against Bhujbal.
In the BJP, Munde's rival from Maharashtra, Nitin Gadkari, has become the party's national president and is trying to cut Munde to size in Maharashtra.
The OBC leaders have grabbed the opportunity to earn political clout by sending a message that their caste base is growing. They are also trying to consolidate support across party lines. Munde recently said that he would work under Bhujbal who can lead the country's OBCs. The OBCs form over one-third of India's population and OBC leaders are trying to strengthen their support base for a bigger share in power.
If a caste-based census gets approved, it could challenge the traditional Maratha lobby, powerful in state politics. It could also lead to economic, social and political reservations for OBCs.