After a complete rout in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress-NCP alliance government in Maharashtra is set to announce 4.5 per cent reservation for Muslims in education and government jobs.
An in-principle decision has been taken on ‘social reservation’ for Muslims and Marathas after Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar made a strong pitch for it to revive the alliance’s fortunes in the Assembly elections scheduled in October.
Social reservation and scrapping of the local body tax mooted by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan were two major demands Pawar had raised in his interaction with Congress leaders A K Antony and Ahmed Patel in New Delhi recently. The two had called on Pawar and sought his support to keep the alliance intact and help retain the Democratic Front government in Maharashtra.
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Muslims account for 10.6 per cent of the population in Maharashtra and Marathas around 35 per cent. A committee under Mahmood-ur Rehman had recommended 8 per cent reservation for Muslims and another committee under Narayan Rane had recommended 20 per cent quota for the Maratha community.
Government sources told The Indian Express a decision may be taken by the state cabinet as early as Wednesday after the model code of conduct for Council elections ends Tuesday. For Marathas though, the state government is likely to set aside only 12 per cent and not the quantum recommended by the Rane committee.
When contacted, Chief Minister Chavan told The Indian Express that the state government was ready to take on board the key demands made by Pawar. He is awaiting a formal note from his deputy Ajit Pawar, who heads the finance department, on replacing LBT with state-wide value added tax. “I am willing to do away with LBT if that’s what Pawar wants,” he said.
Traders have been lobbying against LBT complaining it was a cascading tax.
According to Chavan, the government has to tread cautiously while deciding on social reservation. Understandably, the state is taking clear legal opinion before announcing reservation. There is fear this may be legally untenable and hence the state is keen the proposal does not get stuck in the courts.
Chavan also said the Congress party did not make any offer to NCP chief Sharad Pawar to lead the Democratic Front government in the state Assembly polls scheduled in October. Pawar, whom Antony and Ahmed Patel called on thrice recently, had told NCP ministers and even media that he was asked by them to lead the alliance into the polls.
“My impression is the Central leadership made no such offer,” Chavan said. Besides speaking with Patel and Antony, Chavan is learnt to have had a 35-minute meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi. Sources in the state Congress said asking Pawar to spearhead the campaign was akin to locking the party office in Maharashtra.
Senior state leaders, including Chavan, are scheduled to meet the Congress leadership tasked with the job to analyse the debacle in the Lok Sabha elections later this week. Sources in the Congress said both the state Congress and the NCP are willing to fight the Assembly elections on their own strengths. But Chavan said, “NCP has been our ally since the formation of UPA. We will fight the elections together. We will not agree to 50:50 sharing of seats, but are willing to make some concessions.”