On Wednesday, the Maharashtra government cleared 16 per cent reservation for the Maratha community, seen by many as a dominant one. A look at the decision and how various sections view it.
In the context of the state’s history, Marathas have always been equated with the warrior caste Kshatriya, and they have dominated state politics. Of Maharashtra’s 17 chief ministers since it became a state in 1960, 10 have been Marathas, including first CM Yashwantrao Chavan and the current one, Prithviraj Chavan. Over nearly that entire period, more than half of all MLAs the state has elected have been of that community.
A former chairman of the Maharashtra Planning Board tells The Indian Express, “Almost 50 to 55 per cent of educational institutions — undergraduate and postgraduate, medical and engineering — across the state are controlled by leaders who represent the Maratha community. Of 200-odd sugar factories, the base of the state economy, 168 are controlled by Marathas. Of district cooperative banks, 70 per cent are controlled by Marathas as directors, chairman or panel members.”
Quota and objective
Cleared by the Congress-NCP government, it entails 16-per-cent reservation to Marathas as an “Economically and Educationally Backward Community”, a category newly introduced. Into this category the government added Muslims, giving them 5 per cent.
Assembly elections are due in October and the Maratha community is the single largest vote bank in Maharashtra, accounting for 30 per cent of the state’s population.
The Congress-NCP has sensed a drift away from its Maratha vote-bank for years. In 1994, then chief minister Sharad Pawar consented to the renaming of Marathawada University after B R Ambedkar, and lost in 1995. In the last 10 years, many poor Maratha farmers have drifted towards the Shiv Sena. The Congress-NCP had been striving to grant Marathas OBC status since 2009, and settled for the new category.
Of the 288 assembly seats, Marathas can potentially swing the outcome in nearly 200. This explains the opposition’s guarded reaction. Says state BJP president Devendra Fadnavis, “After 15 years of deceit, the government has approved reservation eying votes. The Lok Sabha defeat has forced them to take such a hasty decision without preparing the grounds to ensure it can stand a legal and constitutional challenge.”
The Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission had argued in 2008: “Marathas are both economically and politically a forward caste… They had never faced social stigma to invite a backward class status.”
In 1980, the Mandal Commission had called Marathas a forward caste. And in 2003-04, National Commission for Backward Classes in 2003-04 hadn’t approved OBC status for Marathas.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan cites the report of a committee headed by Industries Minister Narayan Rane, which suggested a 20-per-cent quota for Marathas. The report, however, does not contain a door-to-door survey that was meant to be part of it.
“The report suggests that the poverty continued…