Maha polls: How will OBCs react to Maratha reservation?Updated: Oct 11, 2019 23:58 IST
Even as the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in Maharashtra are traditional supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena, of late, 400 castes and tribes covered under the category are not happy. Reason: Reservation for Marathas in jobs and education. However, there are hardly any indications that they would move away from the ruling parties.
THE COMMUNITIES, RESERVATION
Between August 9, 2016 and August 9, 2017, Marathas held 58 massive silent rallies, covering almost all districts, over their long-pending demand of reservation. The Maharashtra government passed a special bill granting 16% reservation to the community, although the Bombay high court later brought it down to 12% and 13% in education and jobs, respectively. The reservation has been challenged in the apex court, where the hearings are pending. Combined with the central reservation of 10% to the economically weaker section, the reservation in Maharashtra has now crossed 74-75%.
Apart from population-based reservation to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (13% and 7% respectively), 346 castes covered under the OBC category get 19% reservation, while 52 tribes and castes covered under the Vimukta Jati and Nomadic Tribes (VJNT) get another 11% reservation. The Special Backward Classes have 2% reservation, as per the list rescheduled in May 1994. The OBCs say as they are more in number, their quota should be increased.
In Maharashtra’s politics, Marathas, who form roughly one-third of the population, and the OBCs, who are little less than half, are two rival groups. The political rivalry between these two sections is not fierce, but can impact an election.
Marathas were traditional supporters of the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for years, while OBCs and Scheduled Castes largely supported the BJP-Sena. Minorities and Neo-Buddhists, among the SC (followers of Dr Ambedkar), also traditionally supported the Congress ideology, while Scheduled Tribes were divided between both the sides.
BJP leader Vasantrao Bhagwat strategically brought Other Backward Classes to the BJP-fold under the party’s ‘Madhav’ (‘Ma’li, ‘Dha’ngar and ‘V’anjari castes) doctrine of social engineering, after the party’s formation in 1980, by promoting leaders from these castes. Bhagwat’s protégés Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde took the ‘Madhav’ legacy forward in Maharashtra politics. Munde, an OBC (Vanjari) leader, became the BJP’s face in Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena, too, attracted OBCs in large numbers since its inception in the 1960s.
Now, the Fadnavis government has managed to get the support of Marathas owing to its decision on reservation. “The BJP, since the beginning, was known as the OBC party. It has, of late, successfully attracted the Maratha community to its fold by giving reservation, termed a tough task until then,” said Prakash Pawar, a political analyst from Western Maharashtra.
BJP WOOING MARATHAS
The Fadnavis government’s aggressive stance on ensuring reservation to Marathas did not go down well with the OBC groups, who have been opposing Maratha reservation. One of the groups even challenged the decision in the Bombay high court. But does that mean the OBC groups will shift their loyalties to rival Congress-NCP?
The NCP, which is seen as more Maratha-tilted party than ally Congress, has deliberately started promoting young OBC faces. NCP chief Sharad Pawar inducted popular Marathi actor Amol Kolhe (who comes from Mali community) and fielded him in Shirur Lok Sabha constituency in Pune district. Kolhe won the election by defeating veteran Shiv Sena MP Shivajirao Adhalrao-Patil. Ahead of the Assembly election, the NCP launched a statewide tour, Shiv Swarajya Yatra, which is led by Kolhe. Pawar has also promoted Dhananjay Munde, nephew of Gopinath Munde, making him the Opposition leader in the state legislative Council.
In the Assembly campaign, both Kolhe and Munde are the NCP’s frontline leaders, in addition to Chhagan Bhujbal, a prominent OBC leader.
In comparison, the Congress has not done much to woo the OBCs aggressively. Following defection of Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, it appointed Vijay Wadettiwar, an OBC leader from Vidarbha region, as its Opposition Leader in the Assembly.
The BJP government has, however, tried to strike a balance between communities. After the reservation to Marathas, it has extended all tribal schemes applicable to the Dhangars, the shepherd community, by making a provision of ₹1000 crore. Dhangars, who get the reservation of 3.5% in the state, have been demanding reservation in the Scheduled Tribes category.
BJP leaders are confident that the OBC communities will stand by its side in the Assembly polls.
“We ensured the reservation to Marathas did not touch the OBC quota. Special schemes with significant allocation of ₹386 crore for OBCs have safeguarded the welfare of the communities,” said BJP MP and party’s OBC face Vikas Mahatme.
Chandrakant Bavkar, president, OBC Sangharsha Samanvay Samiti, said, “Like the Lok Sabha elections, the state polls too will be fought on nationalist issues like Hindutva, abrogation of article 370. So the discontent among OBCs over reservation, it will hardly reflect in the voting pattern,” he said.
DIVISION WITHIN THE OBCS
Although the OBCs are in majority in the candidate list of all parties, the community leaders claim only a handful of castes from the category get representation. “We have over 350 castes with OBC and VJNT reservation, but only a handful of them such as Wanjari, Mali and Dhangar get a major pie of benefits. Other smaller castes hardly get any representation in education, jobs and social schemes because they are unorganised and unaware of their rights. The Maratha reservation further suppressed our rights in jobs and education,” said Shabbir Ansari, founder president of All India Muslim OBC Organisation.
While the government has announced it won’t touch the OBC reservation, Ansari feels the Fadnavis government has stopped releasing funds meant for welfare schemes of the OBCs.
In Maharashtra, Marathas also have a sub-caste Kunbi (especially in Vidarbha and Konkan) and are included in OBCs. This also leads to confusion over the percentage of the Maratha community.
“OBCs get 27% of the reservation against our population of 52%, while Marathas have got 13% reservation against their population of 16-18%, excluding Kunbis, who have already been reserved as OBCs. This reduces our reservation in education and jobs. The central quota of 10% for EWS has further squeezed our share in jobs and education, as the creamy layer population (with income of over ₹8 lakh) the OBC have a limited quota of 25% in the open category to share. Similarly, the state government has given more facilities to Marathas in scholarships, hostels and welfare schemes than us,” said Bavkar.
“It is true that a handful of the powerful castes within the OBC category take away most part of the reservation, but it is because of the lack of awareness and unity among most backward castes within the category,” said BJP MP and party’s OBC face Vikas Mahatme.
First Published: Oct 11, 2019 23:58 IST