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Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019

Maratha quota: Tough task for Fadnavis government as OBCs object

The BJP-led government’s attempt to keep the Other Backward Classes happy while granting the Maratha community reservation may backfire.

mumbai Updated: Nov 20, 2018 01:05 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis at the Vidhan Bhavan on the first day of the state’s winter session on Monday.
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis at the Vidhan Bhavan on the first day of the state’s winter session on Monday.(Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government’s attempt to keep the Other Backward Classes (OBC) happy while granting the Maratha community reservation may backfire.

Just a day after the state cabinet accepted the Maharashtra State Backward Classes Commission’s report that endorsed the social, educational and financial backwardness of the Marathas, and decided to grant them reservation under a separate category, OBC leaders said they fear the move will dilute the quota their community is entitled to.

Currently, reservations in Maharashtra add up to 52%, which is more than the Supreme Court-mandated cap of 50%. The Marathas demand a 16% quota.

The state plans to provide reservations to Marathas under a separate class, called the Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC), by making use of an exception in the SC’s ruling that said rules may need to be relaxed in case of extraordinary situations.

OBC leaders — the community constitutes 52% of the state’s population and get 27% reservation — have opposed the creation of this separate SEBC category for Marathas, who constitute 32% of the population. The 27% applies to OBCs and Nomadic Tribes. A section of the Marathas — the Kunbi-Marathas or the community’s peasant class — is already entitled to reservation under the OBC category.

The OBC community is divided into more than 300 castes, and its leaders are coming together to oppose the government’s reservation, and explore legal options.

“We don’t want our OBC quota of 27% (which includes the nomadic tribes sub-category) to be touched. Further, our demand to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is to remove the Kunbi-Marathas from the OBC quota and include them in this special category for Marathas,” said Anil Mahajan, an OBC leader and the president of the Maharashtra Mali Mahasangh (MMM). Mahajan said many from the OBC community are against the 16% quota for Marathas. “We are against it, unless the OBC reservation is doubled given that our population is nearly 60%.”

The MMM, a group that represents malis (gardeners), one of the prominent castes in the OBC, has already written a letter to Fadnavis opposing the reservation.

Ironically, the BJP government created the separate reservation category for Marathas to avoid alienating the larger OBC community ahead of the 2019 election year. The OBCs have traditionally supported the BJP in Maharashtra, while the Marathas have been seen more as the Congress-NCP vote base.

On Monday, a section of backward class leaders, including Haribhau Rathod, a legislator, and former MLA Prakash Shendge (Dhangar or shephard community leader) met. They plan to set up a meeting with Opposition leaders on Tuesday, before finally meeting the CM and arranging a convention of all OBC leaders in Pune.

“By classifying Marathas under SEBC, the chief minister has cleared the decks for this community’s inclusion within the OBCs,” said Rathod. “In our constitution, OBC is not a separate term, and all references are to socially and educationally backward classes. Further, the government will not be able to justify the separate category for reservation in the courts, or extend the quota beyond the 50% ceiling,” Bhau said. “The result will be that Marathas will get included in the OBC category, but, to go beyond the 50% cap, the government has to show this community has suffered social injustices and stigma, or has been exploited. By what stretch of imagination do Marathas fall in this bracket?” Bhau said.

OBC leaders have also challenged the percentage of population the Marathas constitute, and have demanded that a caste census be made public to ensure transparency in granting the reservation.

For the BJP government, settling the Kunbi-Marathas caste equation is just one of the issues it will have to look into. The other political hot potato is deciding the quantum of reservation for Marathas, as the OBCs are against the 16% reservation to the community. Giving the Marathas 16% will only trigger cries for an increase in quotas by the existing beneficiaries.

Legally, too, the BJP-government is on a weak ground. “The best legal option for the government would have been to include the Marathas in the OBC category, and then increase the overall quota for this category,” said Shreehari Aney, the former state advocate-general and a senior counsel. “The constitution recognises scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and the socially and educationally backward — the OBCs — for reservation. That’s it. So, the state will have to argue on jurisprudence merit of creating a separate category for social reservation.”

He added that the state was in for a long legal battle after it enacts the law granting reservation. “And, the government’s best hope is that they get a stay from the court so they can show they have tried to resolve the Maratha issue ahead of the 2019 polls.”

Meanwhile, the BJP maintained that the reservation for Marathas will be independent, and not touch the OBC quota. “In Maharashtra, we already have a separate category for the special backward class — Vimukta Jaati or the denotified tribes, and a sub-category of nomadic tribes B, C and D. On the same grounds, we can provide for a separate category for Marathas,” said a senior BJP minister, who did not want to be named.

First Published: Nov 20, 2018 01:05 IST

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