In a move that will stir up a fresh controversy, the Maharashtra government tabled a fresh bill on Maratha reservations, which was cleared by the assembly on Tuesday, while putting the bill on Muslim reservations on the backburner.
The Opposition alleged the government was indulging in divisive politics and pushing the RSS agenda. The government needs to get the Muslim reservation bill cleared by the legislative assembly and the Council by Wednesday or the deadline for the 5% reservation on education, which was upheld by the Supreme Court, will lapse.
Although officially the Fadnavis government claims the bill is waiting for legal opinion, the Opposition lambasted the government and announced a boycott on proceedings till Wednesday, the last day of the winter session.
The new bill, which was presented by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, maintained 16% reservation for the Maratha community,but comes with social and economic conditions that need to be fulfilled to avail the benefit.
Ruling out any political or religious agenda, Fadnavis clarified the government was committed to reservations for both the Marathas and the Muslims.
“The reason we decided to bring in the bill separately is because there are two separate issues. In case of Muslim reservation, only the education part has been accepted by the court. We have sent the matter to the advocate general for his opinion, following which we will table the bill,” Fadnavis said in Nagpur.
The previous Congress-NCP party government had brought in the ordinance, which provided 16% reservation to the Maratha community in jobs and education, and 5% reservation for the Muslim community, just before the Lok Sabha polls. However, following petitions from different quarters, the Bombay high court stayed the reservations, but upheld the 5% for Muslims in education, while scrapping reservation for jobs.
The HC said the reservations exceeded the 50% cap, set by the Supreme Court. The overall quotas for SCs, STs and OBCs in the state totals up to 52% percent.
Following this, the new BJP government decided to challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court, and filed a special leave petition on December 4.
It also lined up two bills to put up before the legislature for providing reservation to both the communities.
BJP sources indicated the government intended to go slow on the Muslim reservation bill as their party had always opposed the Congress-NCP over the issue of minority appeasement. “We had openly opposed the Muslim reservation and now if we agree, what will we tell our voters. A majority of BJP leaders are against this bill, so there is hesitation in bringing it in fast,” said a senior BJP leader, on the condition of anonymity.
The Opposition, meanwhile, is ready to take on the government.
“When we took a decision, and the Supreme Court did not oppose Muslim reservations, then why should the BJP government not bring in both bills at the same time? This is a communal agenda and the motive of the current government to split communities has come out in the open,” said Opposition leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil.
NCP legislator Jitendra Awhad and SP leader Abu Azmi also criticised the BJP, accusing it of following an RSS-charted agenda.
“When we proposed reservation for Muslims, it was to cater to the lowest denominator in a community where education has reached just 2% of the people,” Awhad said. Azmi threatened to take to the streets if the government did not table the bill before the session ends. MIM legislator Imtiaz Jaleel said, “The previous government took up the issue of Maratha and Muslim reservations to win votes. This government is also towing the same line and has no intention of providing reservations to Muslims.”