Ahead of Maharashtra assembly polls, HC order on Maratha quota a boost for BJP-Sena government
The Bombay high court’s decision upholding reservation granted to the Maratha community in Maharashtra is a big win for the Bharatiya Janata Pary (BJP)-Shiv Sena alliance and is likely to help the ruling coalition seek the influential community’s support in the assembly elections later this year.
For the Devendra Fadnavis-led government — which brought a bill in 2018 declaring the 16% quota — the verdict is likely to provide a bragging right during the election because the previous Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government’s 2014 ordinance granting reservation to the community was stayed by the high court.
Marathas make up around 32% of the state’s population and are politically dominant, with 11 of the state’s 18 chief ministers coming from the community. The community traditionally backed the Congress and NCP, but in recent years have started moving towards the Sena and BJP. In 2014, the BJP won 122 of the state’s 288 assembly seats, the Sena 63, the Congress 42 and the NCP 41.
The win is significant because the reservation to Marathas comes without affecting the 27% Other Backward Class (OBC) quota in the state. OBCs form the traditional support base of the BJP and are said to make up around 50% of the population.
“We have won a big battle today because we have been able to provide reservation to Marathas without disturbing the OBC quota. The high court has upheld our reservation and competence of legislature and it has accepted the data and findings of the Backward Class Commission,’’ said chief minister Fadnavis,
The HC judgment comes a month after the Congress-NCP alliance won just five of the state’s 48 seats. The BJP-Sena coalition won 42 seats.
The Congress played down the HC order. “This decision is a culmination of a legal process that was started by our government in 2014. We will continue to demand similar reservation for Muslims and Dhangars (shepherd community) as was promised,’’ said state Congress chief Ashok Chavan.
The Congress is likely to use this demand to win support among Muslims and Dhangars. But it remains to be seen if the move will pay dividends because in the Lok Sabha election, the Dhangar vote went to the BJP and the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, an outfit headed by BR Ambedkar’s grandson, Prakash Ambedkar.
A senior NCP leader said if the order had quashed the quota, the party would have got an election issue. “We will have to put up new faces from across communities to change the perception that we are a party of Marathas. This verdict does add to our troubles ahead of assembly polls,’’ the leader added on condition of anonymity.
Nitin Birmal of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) said the organisation’s post-poll analysis showed 65.8% of Marathas voted for the BJP-Sena while 30% voted for the NCP in the 2019 general election. In 2014, the post-poll survey had shown that 52% of the community voted for the saffron alliance.
“The 2019 poll results shows the Marathas backed the way the government handled the issue. The Fadnavis government has been quick and responsive. But even then, nearly 30% of the community vote went to NCP. This support base of the NCP could now get even more eroded with this court verdict,’’ he added.