The fortnight-old Maharashtra government is set to face another big test after the Bombay High Court Friday stayed the 16 per cent reservation provided to the Maratha community by the previous Congress-NCP government. With the political and economically dominant community expected to take up the issue with him, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said his government would move the Supreme Court against the stay.
Fadnavis and his Cabinet colleagues are also expected to meet on Saturday to discuss their options.
The HC disallowed the 16 per cent reservation to Marathas in government jobs and educational institutions. The court also stayed 5 per cent reservation for Muslims in employment but allowed the same in educational institutions barring the private ones.
On Friday, while Congress leader Narayan Rane, who led the committee that recommended the reservation for Marathas, sought to blame the
BJP government for not presenting its case adequately well in the court. Cabinet minister Vinod Tawde, however, clarified that the issue was already in court and that arguments had been completed during the tenure of the Congress-NCP government.
While the move yielded no political dividends for the Congress and the NCP, no political party is opposing reservation for the dominant Maratha community.
When the Prithviraj Chavan government had given its consent to the move in the run-up to the Assembly elections, Fadnavis had incidentally said the poll-time sop would not get the Constitutional and legal sanction.
On Friday, however, the CM said: “My government is committed to the reservation for Maratha community. If there are certain discrepancies in the law pointed by the High Court, we will take measures to make the necessary corrections. The lacuna will be addressed.”
He added: “The shortcoming in the laws will be taken up during the winter session of Assembly beginning in Nagpur on December 8.”
The HC ruling against Maratha reservation is going to have wider political ramifications as opposition Congress-NCP will use it against the ruling BJP. This was evident as former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said: “We want the new government to clear its stand on Maratha quota. The Congress will study to HC order. We will fully support Maratha reservation as the final hearing is on January 5.”
While Shiv Sena leader Diwakar Raote wondered why the government “could not present the case properly to justify the reservation”, NCP chief spokesperson Nawab Malik argued: “If the court has stayed the reservation, it raises question on how the matter was presented by the government in court.”
Notwithstanding the political posturing, leaders of Congress, NCP and Sena admit that the biggest hurdle ahead is to get Constitutional and legal sanction for the Maratha quota.
The controversial Maratha reservation was pushed by the Congress-NCP government ahead of the Assembly elections with an objective to win over the support of the community, which constitutes 30 per cent of the state population. After a major defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, NCP president Sharad Pawar had urged the state government to go ahead with reservation for Marathas and Muslims. The NCP had also blamed the Chavan government for not bringing the quota before the Lok Sabha polls.
Wen the Congress-NCP government gave its approval to Maratha quota, the state legal department had expressed objected, saying: “The decision may not get the Constitutional and legal sanction.”
A senior officer, who did not wish to be named, told The Indian Express: “The Narayan Rane committee report, which was the basis for pushing the Maratha reservation quota, has inbuilt flaws. The survey appears to be an exercise undertaken in haste without adequately substantiating the data to prove what percentage of Marathas are economically backward or how they can be given the status of socially backward.”
According to Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of B R Ambedkar, “The Congress-NCP government’s approval to Maratha reservation was to restore the confidence of Maratha community, which was disenchanted with the ruling combine.” He added: “The fate of reservation was on expected lines and Marathas cannot be considered as socially or economically backward community in state.”
The Maratha reservation issue has been discussed in the state and the Centre for the last two decades. Successive Congress governments in the state have always used it to consolidate its vote base and also keep the dominant ruling class under its control. In 2003-04, the National Commission for Backward Classes rejected the demand to include Marathas in the category of Other Backward Class (OBC). Earlier, the 1980 Mandal Commission had called Maratha community a “forward class”.
Marathas, the warrior caste like Kshatriyas, have dominated the state politics since the 1960s, when Maharashtra became a state.
Former state planning board chairman Ratnakar Mahajan said, “I had from the very beginning said Maratha reservation cannot get legal and Constitutional approval. On what basis is the government trying to establish Marathas as socially backward community?” He added: “There are ways to address the issues related to economically and educationally backward among certain sections. But it cannot be justified under the reservation quota for the community.”