‘The social backwardness of Marathas cannot be proved’
The Maharashtra government's decision to issue Kunbi caste certificates to Marathas has sparked objections from existing OBCs who claim it encroaches on their quota. The OBC Janmorcha plans to start a statewide agitation and a legal battle against the government, arguing that the decision cannot be sustained in court. The OBCs are also demanding the removal of the 50% cap on reservation quotas. The issue is seen as political rather than social, and the OBCs emphasize that their opposition is against the government and not the Maratha community.
Mumbai: Following the police lathi charge at a hunger strike for Maratha reservations in Jalna on September 1, followed by statewide protests by the Maratha community, the Maharashtra government decided to issue Kunbi caste certificates to Marathas from Marathwada region. Kunbis are entitled to reservation benefits in the Other Backward Class (OBC) quota, and the Marathas from Marathwada claim that they were categorised as Kunbis during Nizam rule before independence. However, the existing OBCs have objected to the government’s decision on the grounds that this would be encroaching on their quota.
In an interview with Hindustan Times, Chandrakant Bavkar, working president of the OBC Janmorcha, an outfit of several OBC organisations, said they were preparing to start a statewide agitation and a legal battle against the state government. Excerpts:
How do you react to the government’s decision to provide Kunbi certificates to Marathas?
Ans: The state government has put down conditions such as submitting Nizam-era documents and the family tree of the person mentioned as ‘Kunbi’. We are not opposed to it, but we do object to its misuse and any move to share our reservation benefits with Marathas.
But Marathas are also demanding reservation in the OBC quota?
Ans: The government resolution for issuing Kunbi certificates indicates the same. We are going to oppose it, as it cannot be sustained in a court of law. The Mandal Commission (1990), Khatri Commission (2001) and the Justice Bapat Commission (2005) in their subsequent report have recommended against giving reservation to the Maratha community. Even the Supreme Court, in its May 5, 2021 judgment, scrapped the reservation decision, saying that they are politically active and a dominant community and have more land holdings and government jobs than other communities.
How will you oppose it?
Ans: We have two options before us: agitation and legal battle. We have sent letters to the chief minister, the two deputy CMs and the OBC minister expressing our opposition. This will be followed by a district-wise hunger strike which will begin from Thane, hometown of chief minister Eknath Shinde, from September 16 or 17. We are also studying the GR and are likely to challenge it in the Bombay high court, as reservation can be granted to a community only on the recommendations of the state backward classes commission.
What do you feel the government should do?
Ans: The government is in a Catch-22 situation because it cannot openly take sides against any community. In 2005, to resolve the grievances of the OBC communities, the central government had formed a committee headed by E M Sudharsana Nachiappan, which had recommended removing the 50 percent cap on reservation quota. If that is removed, the issue of reservation can be resolved. But here again we are first claimants, as in Maharashtra we get only 19 percent reservation against a 52 percent population, which is less than the 27 percent OBC reservation provided by the Centre.
Has the issue created animosity between two communities?
Ans: We do not hate Marathas but we will fight for our rights and also against the government, not the Maratha community. It is more a political than a social issue.
Who is responsible for the failure of Maratha reservation in court?
Ans: The social backwardness of Marathas cannot be proved and thus no government can be held responsible, as they are bound to follow the constitutional amendments. The Marathas have been demanding reservation since 1993. It should be rejected immediately but those in the government chose not to as they do not want to displease the community. Politicians need to be blamed for all this. If they had rejected the demand, then it would not have come to this point.
Do you still demand a caste-based census in Maharashtra? Why?
Ans: We have been demanding a caste-based census in the state for the past many years. It can be conducted either at national level or state level on the lines of Bihar. A caste-based census can provide quantitative and qualitative data of the communities to the government. It will also help to resolve the Maratha reservation issue, as it will provide clarity on the social and economic backwardness of communities. Based on the data, the government can take its decision.