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Saturday, Oct 19, 2019

Will OBC discontent over quotas hurt BJP in Maharashtra?

Devendra Fadnavis government is hoping for support from the Marathas after having successfully navigated the quota issue.

assembly-elections Updated: Oct 12, 2019 02:52 IST
Surendra Gangan
Surendra Gangan
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis during a public meeting ahead of Maharashtra Assembly polls in Thane.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis during a public meeting ahead of Maharashtra Assembly polls in Thane.(PTI)
         

They are a block of 400-odd castes and tribes who form the backbone of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) support base in Maharashtra for almost four decades now. But as the October 21 assembly election approaches, the Other Backward Classes (OBC) groups are unhappy about the quantum of reservation allocated to them and the quotas granted to the Marathas though experts say they are likely to back the saffron party once again.

The immediate source of discontent is the government’s decision to grant 16% reservation to the Marathas in 2018. The Bombay high court this year slashed the quota to 12% in education and 13% in jobs but upheld the government’s legislation.

In Maharashtra, Marathas, who form roughly one third of the population, and OBCs, who are little less than half of the population, are two poles of the state’s polity. Marathas have been traditional supporters of the Congress as well as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), while OBCs have drifted towards the BJP.

BJP leader Vasantrao Bhagwat brought OBCs into the BJP-fold under the so-called ‘Madhav’ formula (which stood for ‘Ma’li, ‘Dha’ngar and ‘V’anjari castes) in 1980 by promoting leaders from these castes. Bhagwat’s protégés Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde took the ‘Madhav’ formula legacy forward. Munde, an OBC (Vanjari) leader became one of the BJP’s most prominent faces in Maharashtra.

Now, the Devendra Fadnavis government is hoping for support from the Marathas after having successfully navigated the quota issue. “The BJP was known as an OBC party. It has, of late, successfully attracted Marathas by giving it reservation which was deemed as most difficult task,” said Prakash Pawar, a political analyst from Western Maharashtra.

POLITICAL STRATEGY

In Maharashtra, about 346 castes covered under the OBC category get 19% reservation, while 52 covered under the Vimukta Jati and Nomedic Tribes (VJNT) get another 11% reservation. Special Backward Classes have 2% reservation as per the rescheduled list of reservation in May 1994.

But OBCs say they are more in number, as per projections made on the basis of the 1931 caste census, and therefore deserve a higher quantum of reservation.

When the BJP government came out in favour of the Maratha quota, many OBC groups were quick to criticise the decision. On the whole, protests were muted though OBC leaders say there is simmering discontent about not prioritising the demands such as that of the Dhangars to be treated as a scheduled tribe (ST).

“The OBCs get 27% of the reservation against a population of 52%, while Marathas got 13 reservation against their population of 16-18%. Similarly, the state government has given more facilities to Marathas in scholarships, hostels and welfare schemes than us,” said Chandrakant Bavkar, president of the OBC Sangharsha Samanvay Samiti.

The Opposition is attempting to exploit this discontent and wean away a section of the OBC vote away from the BJP. The NCP has started promoting young OBC faces. NCP chief Sharad Pawar inducted popular Marathi actor Amol Kolhe. who won the Shirur Lok Sabha seat in the 2019 general elections.

Ahead of the assembly election, the NCP launched a statewide tour, Shiv Swarajya Yatra, led by Kolhe. Pawar also promoted Dhananjay Munde, nephew of Gopinath Munde, by making him the Leader of Opposition in the state legislative council. The Congress also appointed Vijay Wadettiwar, an OBC leader from Vidarbha, as its leader in the assembly.

“We have support of all the castes, religions and it will be continued in this election,” said Sharad Ranpise, party leader.

The BJP is confident these efforts will come to naught. The party points out the state government was careful in striking a balance between the communities and took care to ensure the Maratha quota didn’t squeeze reservation for other communities. After the Maratha reservation, the government also extended all applicable ST schemes to Dhangars by making a provision of Rs 1,000 crore.

“We ensured the Maratha reservation did not touch the OBC quota. Special schemes with significant allocation of Rs 386 crore for OBCs has safeguarded the welfare of the communities,”said BJP MP FROM WHERE and the party’s OBC face, Vikas Mahatme.

The party has also pitched its campaign on the governance record of Fadnavis and issues such as nationalism and the abrogation of Article 370 that resonate with the electorate and fetched the party rich dividends in the Lok Sabha elections. “Like the Lok Sabha elections, the state polls will be fought on nationalist issues. So despite the discontent among the OBCs over reservation, there may hardly be any reflection in the voting pattern,” said Bavkar.

First Published: Oct 11, 2019 23:30 IST

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