The huge response to Hardik Patel’s agitation for reservation for the Patels in Gujarat has brought the issue of Maratha and Dhangar reservation to political centre stage but observers dismissed it as ill timed.
Taking a cue from from Hardik’s rally, voices in the Congress-NCP have emerged to revive the issue of Maratha and the Dhangar reservations to corner the Fadnavis government. However, opinion is divided within the Congress-NCP.
A senior Congress leader said, “Any attempt to trigger reservation politics now will backfire. Marathwada is reeling under drought and that would go against the opposition.”
Political observers said rallies for Maratha reservation and bringing Dhangars in the list of scheduled tribes have been held a dozen times between 2009 and 2015. The position of both the BJP and the Congress-NCP on these is in public domain and both sides said they are committed to reservation subject to legal and constitutional sanctity.
In the 2009 elections, NCP president Sharad Pawar had won the support of the Dhangars. The Maratha reservation had consolidated the 30 per cent vote bank. Given the complex caste politics, the move led to consolidation of OBC and tribal leaders within Congress-NCP. The equations have changed now. Majority of leaders representing the community and even some aggressive Maratha parties are supporting the BJP government.
According to Dhangar leader Mahadeo Jhankar, “The Congress-NCP never bothered to address the community’s concerns during their reign. What right do they have to raise the issue now? We will mount pressure on the BJP-led government to address the issue.”
Vinayak Mete, chief of Shiv Sangram party, which spearheaded Maratha reservation, is part of the ruling alliance in the state. Mete, a member of the panel looking into the issue, said, “The state government has given its consent to the reservation. But the matter is in court. So, we will have to wait.”
Shortly after taking charge, the Fadnavis government had set up a panel to look into the issues. The agitation of Patels in Gujarat prompted the opposition including Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and Narayan Rane to rake up the Maratha and Dhanagar issues to unsettle the BJP-Sena government.