Maratha quota: A double-edged sword for Maharashtra government

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Final Tuesday, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray at the side of a group of ministers called on Maharashtra governor B S Koshyari and submitted a letter addressed to President Ramnath Kovind. Thackeray’s letter referred to Supreme Court (SC)’s May 5 verdict scrapping the quota provided to the Maratha community in 2018. In its order, the apex court pointed out that the powers to create a new category of socially and economically backward communities and give it reservation rest with the President. In his letter, Thackeray has requested the President and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to restore the quota for the Maratha community in government jobs and education. He also announced that he’s going to take an all-party delegation to meet Modi seeking a decision on the same by the Centre.

The move is political and aimed at sending a message to the Maratha community, which is unhappy with the SC judgement. It puts the onus of giving them the reservation on the Centre. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the state’s principal opposition party, has called the judgement a failure of the state government in convincing the Supreme Court that the Marathas needed the quota.

“The preceding BJP government in the state gave the reservation to Marathas but the MVA [Maharashtra Vikas Agadi] government failed to defend it,” said state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil on Saturday as he announced that his party will participate in agitations of the Maratha community for the reservation.

The Centre has now filed a review petition in the SC urging it to revisit the a part of the order in which it has said that states don’t have any correct to come to a decision reservation following the 102nd amendment in the Charter. Politically, it’ll help the BJP as it can argue that its government at the Centre is doing everything imaginable for the Marathas while the MVA government in the state has failed.

Whether the SC accepts the Centre’s contention, then the ball will be back in the state government’s court. It’ll have to then make a fresh tender for the Maratha quota.

Only other option?

Maratha outfits have threatened to launch a state-wide agitation in make stronger of their demand. One of the crucial community leaders, Vinayak Mete, who aligned with the BJP in the 2014 and 2019 elections, has announced a march from Beed in central Maharashtra from June 5. With the Maratha outfits getting restless, Thackeray does not have many options. Broadly, he seems to have two options as of now. First, to receive the Centre to give the Marathas reservation, and second to include Marathas on the list of Other Backward Classes (OBC) and adjust their quota accordingly.

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In the current political scenario, nobody believes the Centre will bail Thackeray out. The MVA has started petitioning the Centre, but it isn’t lucid how far the Modi government would go on this issue.

“It is difficult for the Centre to take an initiative to give reservation to Marathas. Whether we do it, there will be similar demands from other states. Patidars in Gujarat or Jats or Gujjars too will demand similar decisions by the Centre. But even so, whether the apex court accepts the stand that states do have powers to give reservation, all the responsibility will be of the MVA government in the state. Alternatively, convincing the apex court to reverse its May 5 order and again give reservation to Marathas will be a very difficult task,” said a BJP leader, requesting anonymity. “Why must the Centre step in and save the face of the Thackeray government, particularly when the Maratha community forms a remarkable make stronger base of the ruling coalition?”

Legitimate experts said the verdict makes it pretty lucid that Marathas would not have the reservation. The SC has rejected the findings of the state-appointed M G Gaikwad Commission, which had made a case for the backwardness of Marathas. Many think the chances of the state with the ability to supply a separate quota is nearly zero. As such, the only viable option left is to include Marathas in the OBC category.

“The Supreme Court order is lucid. All judges [of the five-member bench] agreed that Marathas would not have the reservation,” said Shrihari Aney, a former advocate general of Maharashtra. He said the states cannot exceed the limit of 50% quota. “My suggestion before the Bombay High Court [when the issue was heard there] used to be that the caste could be included on the OBC list. The state government did not wish to disturb the existing OBC then and hence created a separate class which has now been struck down by the Supreme Court. Still, inside the framework, there is usually a way out by means of inclusion in the OBCs,” Aney said.

Balkrishna Renake, the former chairman of the National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic, and Semi Nomadic Tribes, said the state government can include Marathas in the OBC group. “There’s a procedure to do it by getting the State Backward Class Commission to submit a outline on the same. In truth, when the Maratha agitation began to start with, the demand used to be to add them to the OBC quota. Alternatively, OBC community leaders strongly objected the same. It used to be political decision to supply a separate quota.”

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Renake said the SC is unlikely to reverse its order whether one considers the grounds on which the Maratha reservation has been scrapped. “That leaves the state government with the option to include Marathas in the OBCs.”

Some Maratha leaders, too, have been demanding the same.

“The demand is old, and we think it is an option whether the reservation does not stand in the SC whether there’s a review of the May 5 order,” said Vinod Patil, a Maratha leader and a petitioner in the case.

“We would like the state government to take a look at truly tough to receive the decision reversed the use of all to be had options for legitimate recourse. Whether it does not happen it has to include Marathas in the OBCs. In the end, Kunbis are already provided the reservation under the OBC category.” Kunbi is a peasant sub-caste of the Marathas.

Aney said the government can talk to the representatives of the OBC castes to see whether they comply with accommodate the Marathas.

That is where the government is facing a major problem. The OBCs are strongly opposing the inclusion of Marathas in their quota. The OBC leaders are demanding that there must be a revision in their quota since they would like it to be increased. The OBCs in Maharashtra includes 346 castes and collectively their population is a couple of third of the state’s population. Community leader have also been demanding a fresh caste-wise census to prove that their population is near to half of state’s population.

“We are approximately 45% of the population in Maharashtra but our quota is 32% for over 340 castes. We don’t say Marathas must not be provided opportunities, but we don’t wish to sacrifice our meagre quota for them,” said Chandrakant Bavkar, working president of the OBC Jan Morcha. “Whether they’re accommodated in the OBC quota, they’re going to corner most benefits and because of their social backwardness most existing OBC castes cannot compete with them.”

Political tussle

In Maharashtra, OBCs, Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes get quotas in the three-tier panchayat system and municipal bodies. OBC leaders say the quota will get badly affected whether Marathas are included in their category. “There used to be a demand for a separate five percent quota inside the OBC category for Marathas. Even supposing Marathas are provided a one percent separate quota under the OBC category, they’re going to be liable for OBC reservation in native government bodies which they already dominate. It’ll intent our representation will be wiped out,” Bavkar said.

In Maharashtra, it is in large part a political battle between Marathas and OBCs for dominance. Marathas are the biggest caste (approximately 32%). In the case of numbers, OBCs too are a remarkable lot. They don’t seem to be a well-knit group, but prominent OBC castes stick together in the political battle with Marathas. Even in state administration, there’s a tussle between these groups.

The OBCs have created their space in state politics and gained weightage. In Maharashtra, Marathas traditionally formed the strong make stronger base for Congress and later the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The OBCs backed the BJP and Shiv Sena. OBCs castes such as Vanjari, Mali, Teli supported them.

Following the split in Congress in 1999, both Congress and NCP started having a look beyond Maratha votes and began wooing OBCs too. NCP succeeded in making inroads in the neighborhood by putting forth leaders such as Chhagan Bhujbal, Jitendra Awhad, and Dhananjay Munde. Congress managed to reaffirm its position some of the Kunbi community which has a strong presence in the Vidarbha region. Congress’s current state unit chief Nana Patole comes from Kunbi community.

The three-party MVA coalition of Shiv Sena, Congress, and NCP face a dilemma. It wants to give quota to the Marathas, but it cannot antagonise OBCs.

“Frankly speaking, the MVA government is in an unenviable position now. There are major hurdles in restoring the Maratha quota scrapped by the SC. Alternatively, touching the OBC quota would intent inviting the wrath of a politically aware community that may be a big chunk of the population…,” said Pratap Asbe, a political analyst. He added there’s no instant solution to the issue and the deadlock could go on for some time.

Hemant Desai, another political analyst, said there will be a Maratha as opposed to OBC battle whether the government considers the option to include Marathas in the OBC quota. “Whether something like that happens, the BJP will be at an virtue.”

The MVA government could also be having a look at offering sops that could pacify the Maratha community. “We are having a look at giving benefits such as waiving fees of Maratha students in higher education, offering them coaching for competitive examinations, free hostels, interest-free loans for setting up small businesses. Some of these have already been put in place. Some more sops too are being regarded as,” said an NCP minister. “But the problem is that these sops still would be less appealing as in comparison to a constant quota in admissions to higher education courses or government jobs. But even so, the more youthful lot in the neighborhood has seen that few of them got admissions in addition to jobs under the quota that used to be provided in 2018. Now once they have got seen the opportunity of a quota, they don’t wish to compromise.”

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