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Maratha reservation: The issue is far from over

The Devendra Fadnavis government is now planning to give quota to the Maratha community in government jobs and education

mumbai Updated: Nov 20, 2018 01:13 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Maratha reservation issue,Maratha,Mumbai
Traditionally, the community depended on agriculture for livelihood.(HT File)

As expected, the report of the Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes (MSCBC) points out that the Maratha community in the state is socially and economically backward. And as expected, the Devendra Fadnavis government is now planning to give quota to the Maratha community in government jobs and education. For the purpose, the government has decided to create a separate category— socially and educationally backward class (SEBC). The government granting a fresh quota (after the 16% quota given by the previous Congress-NCP government was struck down by the Bombay high court) to Maratha community was a foregone conclusion. It is a political decision and it is inevitable for the ruling party (or any party in power) since Marathas are a dominant group in state politics.

It’s a fact that a significant number of people in the Maratha community are poor. Traditionally, the community depended on agriculture for livelihood. In fact, it dominated agriculture and allied activities in Maharashtra. As such, higher education and jobs were not a priority for many in the community, especially in rural areas. Over the decades, as the families grew, the average landholding per family reduced, affecting their earning. The farm crisis made the situation worse. They felt the need for more opportunities in higher education as well as employment. It led to the demand for reservation. Past few years saw the community flexing its muscles, forcing the ruling parties to accept its demand. The agitation of Marathas is similar to that of Patel-Patidars in Gujarat or Jats in Haryana.

The state government has now made a bid to provide reservation to the community through SEBC. It is yet to decide the percentage of reservation. It may bring a legislation that is likely to be passed unanimously since all political parties are in favour of reservation to Marathas.

The ruling party knows its decision will have to stand the legal scrutiny. Can the government create a separate category beyond the existing ones? Will it be legally feasible to do so? Can the quota be created in addition to the 52% reservation already given in Maharashtra? All these aspects will now be argued in the HC and probably even the Supreme Court. Knowing this, the government adopted a cautious approach. It appointed the MSCBC to submit a report on the issue. Following surveys among Maratha families and deliberations, the commission concluded that the community is socially and educationally backward. It would make valid ground for reservation for the government.

Read more: Maratha reservation is back at the centre of politics in Maharashtra

Fadnavis government has completed the first task. It will now have to prepare for a legal battle. Politically, it wants to send a message to the community that it did its bit and now it is up to the court to decide whether the decision is right or wrong.

The move, however, will open a Pandora’s Box. Since it has created a separate category, some other communities such as Lingayats would also demand reservation on similar grounds.

It may create a further divide between Marathas and other backward classes (OBCs) — the two politically strong groups in Maharashtra. The OBCs are wary that the government may ultimately include the Marathas in their category if the SEBC is not accepted by the courts. The ground for forming SEBC is the same as the OBC. They are also asking why Kunbis (sub-caste of Maratha) should continue with the OBC and why shouldn’t it be added to the new SEBC. This may kick up a new political controversy. A significant number of Maratha-Kunbi politicians contest local elections through seats reserved for OBCs. SCBCs won’t get a political reservation, which may lead to friction between the two communities. A lot will depend on how the Fadnavis government will handle the situation.

The row over reservation is far from over.

First Published: Nov 20, 2018 01:12 IST