The Dhangar (shepherd) community in Maharashtra has served an ultimatum to the state government to consider its long-pending demand for reservation under Scheduled Tribe (ST) category.
On Sunday, the Dhangar Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (Maharashtra) held a public rally at Washim in Vidarbha under the banner “Abhi Nahi, Tau Kabhi Nahi (Now or Never)”.
The Dhangar community has for decades been demanding reservation under ST category. At present, the community gets 3.5 per cent quota in government jobs and education under Nomadic Tribe (C) category, which comes under OBC category. The Dhangar community in the state has a sizeable population of about one crore people, or nine per cent of Maharashtra’s 11.25 crore population.
“Under the Dhangar Samaj Sangharsh Samiti, we got all leaders across party lines to unite and pursue the demand for quota under ST category. The government, which has passed 10 per cent quota for the economically backward in general category, should show the same eagerness to address our concerns. It’s not at all difficult,” said BJP MP Vikas Mahatme.
“It’s just a matter of political will. They have to just shift the 3.5 per cent quota which the Dhangars enjoy under Nomadic Tribe (OBC) to ST category. It doesn’t affect or alter the overall reservation,” he added.
While acknowledging the welfare schemes of the Maharashtra government for the development of the community, Mahatme said, “Majority of our demands related to land for the Dhangar community to graze cattle, Ahilyabai Holkar’s birth anniversary celebrations and higher representation in politics have been implemented by the government. However, the main demand of the Dhangars is quota in ST category,” he said.
The community wants reservation under ST category as it would allow them to avail the benefits of more welfare schemes.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has in the past reassured the Dhangars about the government’s commitment to consider their demand positively. But the decision to include the community in ST category lies in the Centre’s jurisdiction.
The biggest problem which the ruling BJP finds itself is, ST leaders’ opposition to accommodate the Dhangars within their quota. At present, STs enjoy seven per cent quota in the state.
Earlier, the total reservation in the state was 52 per cent – SC 13 per cent, ST 7, OBC 19, Special Backward Class 2, Vimukt Jati 3, Nomadic Tribe (B) 2.5, Nomadic Tribe (C) (Dhangar) 3.5 and Nomadic Tribe (D) (Vanjari) 2.
Now after the Maratha reservation (16 per cent) and economically backward quota in general category (10 per cent), the total quota comes to 78 per cent. PILs have been filed in court related to the Maratha reservation.
The government is exercising caution to ensure it does not antagonise its tribal vote bank. Of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, four seats are reserved for ST and five for SC. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won all four ST seats – Gadchiroli, Dindori, Palghar and Nandurbar. However, of the five SC seats, the BJP could bag only two, Solpaur and Latur. The rest, Ramtek, Amravati and Shirdi, went to the Shiv Sena.