‘Prepare for celebrations on December 1’: Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis hints at Maratha quota
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ statement came hours after the state’s commission for backward classes submitted its report.
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Thursday all but said his government would give in to the demand of the Maratha community for reservation in educational institutions and government jobs and asked it to prepare for celebrations on December 1, instead of agitations.
Fadnavis’ comments, at a public meeting in Ahmednagar, came hours after the Maharashtra backward class commission submitted its report on social, educational and economic conditions of the community to the state chief secretary, DK Jain. The commission was set up in 2017 to determine whether Marathas deserved reservation.
“I had promised time-bound action on this issue. The report has been submitted to us and by the end of the month, we will take decision on reservation. We will now complete other statutory requirements for this,’’ said Fadnavis.
Although the contents of the report have not been publicised, a senior official and a cabinet minister both said on condition of anonymity that it found the Maratha community to be educationally and socially backward. It has recommended reservation to the community and suggested the government follow Tamil Nadu model to protect this reservation from any legal action, added the official.
The commission has not recommended the exact magnitude of the quota to be given to the community; the Marathas have been agitating for 16%. “We have received the report, which is based on the economic, social conditions of Marathas. Appropriate decision will be taken after studying it,” said Jain.
The BJP will now have to decide how much reservation should be given to the community and how this can be implemented without the decision being struck down by the judiciary. It will also have to walk the tightrope between the Maratha community and the larger OBC community ( 52% of state population) that is unlikely to be happy with a quota for the former, especially if this eats into its own. Still, the government will likely want to be seen as doing something ahead of crucial Lok Sabha and state elections next year.
The government will have to keep in mind the fact that both a law passed by it and an ordinance issued by the former government to the effect were struck down by the High Court.
The state has a 52% reservation and anything over this would go against the 1992 apex court judgement that called for a ceiling of 50% on all quotas. Including the Maratha community within the existing Other Backward Class quota is a difficult option since it will alienate the larger 52 % OBC population.
“A lot does depend on this report because it is by a statutory commission...,’’ said a senior advocate who asked not to be named. In the short term the government just wants to buy time.
“We are yet to finalise the next course of action. First, we will seek legal opinion of constitutional experts and the advocate general on the issue. We are hoping to table the report in the winter session of the state legislature and pass a law based on it,’’ added the cabinet minister.
He added, “We know that this will be challenged in the High Court... We have better data and the backing of the statutory commission’s recommendation to fight the legal case. The legal case can go on for at least a year or more.’’ That will see the government through next year’s elections.
The other option before the government is to follow the Tamil Nadu model . For this, the government will have to give Marathas reservation under the OBC category and then increase the quota for OBCs as a whole. This option may have stronger legal ground but could have political repercussions.