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 prevailing in the farming community among the Marathas calls for a quota in education and employment,” Chavan says. Deputy CM Ajit Pawar of the NCP says, “The poor among the Marathas need reservation.”
Even Congress leader Ratnakar Mahajan says, “I am opposed to reservation as it will not address the real concerns of economically backward sections. Moreover, how can Marathas, a dominant ruling class controlling almost 70 per cent of the state’s economy, qualify as a backward class?”
A senior NCP leader, who belongs to an OBC group, says, “Maratha reservation in employment and education will eventually become political reservation. The Marathas want to counter the growth of OBC in politics.” A 27-per-cent reservation has helped OBCs make inroads in village panchayats, gram sabhas and corporations.
The Dalit view
Dalit writer Arjun Dangle says, “In the 1980s and 1990s, there was never a serious demand for Maratha reservation. On the contrary, Marathas always took pride in the forward tag. Those seeking reservation, on the other hand, argued that a sub-caste of Marathas, Kunbi, had OBC status in Vidarbha, and demanded why it should not be extended across Maharashtra.”
Prakash Ambedkar, great-grandson of B R Ambedkar, says: “Almost 3,000 Maratha families in the state control 72 per cent of its land. And 171 families are politically dominant. A majority of the educational institutions held by Maratha leaders are for students of higher income families; poor people are left out,” he says. “If Marathas are lacking in education and employment, it also shows a leadership failure.”
17 CMs in Maharashtra so far
10 of them Marathas: Yashwantrao Chavan, Vasantdada Patil, Babasaheb Bhosale, Shivajirao Patil Nilengekar, Sharad Pawar, Shankarrao Chavan, Narayan Rane, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Ashok Chavan, Prithviraj Chavan
7 non-Marathas were: Marotrao Kannamwar, P K Sawant (caretaker CM), Vasantrao Naik, A R Antulay, Sudhakarrao Naik, Manohar Joshi, Sushil Kumar Shinde
50% or thereabouts, representation in the assembly. From 1962 to 2004, 1,336 of of 2,430 MLAs elected have been Marathas. In the 2009 polls that elected the current assembly, 135 of 288 MLAs were Marathas.