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Home / Mumbai News / Maratha reservation: Being poor is not the same as being socially backward

Maratha reservation: Being poor is not the same as being socially backward

Calling Marathas socially backward is confusing comparative poverty with lack of social privilege

mumbai Updated: Nov 20, 2018 22:58 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times
Maratha groups protest against BJP government during the winter assembly session at Vidhan Bhavan.
Maratha groups protest against BJP government during the winter assembly session at Vidhan Bhavan.(Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)

Once bitten twice shy. It is not surprising thus that Maratha groups should be sceptical about the manner in which the government has gone about giving them reservations in jobs and education under a newly created “socially and educationally backward class” category.

It is disputable who are socially backward and Marathas, many of who may be poor, are most certainly not. I recall years ago questioning former prime minister VP Singh about the Mandal Commission recommendations — that commission had not listed Marathas as backward. However, when I asked Singh why reservations could not be on the basis of economic backwardness because many Brahmins too were poor and could not afford a good education that would help them get better jobs in the future, he told me quite categorically, “A poor Brahmin is still not socially backward. He is not barred from mixing with the vast, even rich, circles; he is invited to people’s homes quite willingly; he is never persona non grata anywhere, A rich Dalit may overcome some of those prejudices but never a poor one. The poor backward is doubly deprived.”

As I gathered more experience of such things, I realised he was right. To just highlight this truth from practical incidents, I saw my neighbours willingly donate large sums to their priest for his daughter’s wedding and son’s admission (he demanded with an authority that could only come from social privilege) but denied their OBC gardener the same. This despite the fact the gardener promised to pay back the loan and the Brahmin, who never rendered any free services, took their money as his due.

Calling Marathas socially backward thus is confusing comparative poverty with lack of social privilege — former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar had made that distinction when he mocked the reservation demand by saying Marathas are backward only when they want reservations but quite the upper caste when it comes to making marriage alliances and many Marathas have rightly caught on to the travesty. That is why perhaps Karan Gaikar of the Maratha Kranti Morcha who had earlier threatened violence if Marathas were not given reservations is not celebrating yet and sounds a cautious note when he says they would rather wait and see if the bill passes judicial scrutiny.

For the Devendra Fadnavis government has taken a leaf out of the previous government’s book to accord these reservations to Marathas without due constitutional amendments and in defiance of the Supreme Court ruling that reservations should not exceed 50%. Tamil Nadu is the only state which has 69% reservation but it is a state where backward classes are pivotal to its politics. Moreover, when former chief minister Jayalalithaa introduced the 69% reservation in Tamil Nadu, the Dravidian parties were of crucial importance to coalition governments in the centre and with much of Tamil Nadu politics being anti-upper caste, there was not much of a challenge to the defiance of constitutional norms in that state.

Why it may not be easy for the Maharashtra government to implement these reservations now is because OBCs and Dalits are fiercely up in arms against dipping into their quotas but also that according to a reservation outside the 50% cap (Maharashtra already gives 52%) will only incite demands from other communities like the Dhangars who too were promised reservations in their manifesto by the BJP during the 2014 elections. They have been waiting quietly in the wings to see how the government resolves the Maratha issue but if their decision is really implemented many other communities which have been demanding quotas could begin to raise their voices again — where is it all likely to end is the question being raised by many people now.

Nationally, too, the decision is likely to create a major headache for the Centre ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Demands by Patels, Gujjars and Jats in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana could get revived and none of it will be possible without either a constitutional amendment or a judicial endorsement. Which is why people like Gaikar now believe this is another election gimmick — the BJP both in the state and the Centre cannot afford to annoy their upper caste base by carving more out of the general pie for communities which are not really socially backward. They cannot dip into quotas for Dalits and OBCs either for obvious reasons.

Many are now accusing the Fadnavis government of political skullduggery — the Congress has done it before and got away with it, so might the BJP in case the courts throw out the government decision. The BJP can then blame it on the courts and say, “We tried, didn’t we?”