July 29, 2018 6:12:50 am
The Maratha community, in the last few days, has turned aggressive over its demand for inclusion in Other Backward Class (OBC) quota in government jobs and educational institutions. The demand itself is not new and has been raised periodically for the last 40 years now. Representing upwards of 32 per cent of Maharashtra’s 11.42 crore population, the Marathas, a community of warriors and cultivators, are followers of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, a descendant of Shivaji, had been hailed as the harbinger of a new age for socially oppressed classes when, in 1902, he had declared 50 per cent reservation in government services for backward classes in his state.
The Maratha community is divided into several groups such as Marathas, Deshmukhs, Maratha-Kunbhi, Kunbhis-Maratha, 96 Kuli Marathas, Naik Marathas and Gavit Marathas. In 2004, the state government included Kunbhis and Maratha-Kunbhis in the OBC category.
The Maratha community dominates the political and cooperative landscape in Maharashtra. Over 70 per cent of cooperative institutions, including sugar mills, are controlled by the community. Between 75 to 90 per cent of land is owned by it. Of the 17 chief ministers in the state since 1960, when Maharashtra was formed, as many as 10 have been Marathas. The list includes Yashwantrao Chavan, Sharad Pawar, Vasantdada Patil, Vilasrao Deshmukh and Prithviraj Chavan.
The demand for reservation for the Maratha community first came up in 1981, when then MLA Anna Patil, founder-president of the Akhil Bharatiya Maratha Mahasangh, demanded reservation based on economic criterion. On March 22, 1982, he took out a massive a rally to the state legislature in Mumbai. Patil threatened to end his life if the government failed to meet his demand. On March 23, he actually shot himself dead.
After his death, the Maratha community, on and off, kept raising the demand for reservation, but found few takers. In 1992, organisations like Maratha Mahasangh, Maratha Seva Sangh and Chhava, for the first time, also raised the demand for inclusion in OBC category. “This was after the Supreme Court, in 1991, termed as unconstitutional the move by the Narasimha Rao-led central government to accord 10 per cent reservation to economically backward classes, a demand raised by Anna Patil,” said Rajendra Kondhare, general secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Maratha Mahasangh.
In 1992, the Supreme Court, in the Indra Sawhney versus Union of India case, ruled that the creamy layer should be excluded from OBC reservation. “The court ruled that OBC reservation should be based on social and educational backwardness, subject to the recommendation of the State Backward Classes Commission,” said Kondhare.
In 1995, the state government set up the Khatri Commission, to survey the status of Marathas and make necessary recommendations. The Khatri Commission recommended that only Maratha-Kunbhis and Kunbhi-Marathas should be given OBC status. On June 1, 2004, the government included these groups in the OBC category. This agitated the
Maratha organisations, which demanded inclusion of all Maratha groups in the OBC category. The state government then set up the State Backward Classes Commission, headed by Justice R M Bapat, in 2005. But, in 2008, the commission rejected the demand and said it would be against the interest of social justice to include a forward caste like the Marathas in the OBC category.
The Maratha community, meanwhile, continued with the protests intermittently. In 2013, the state government set up a committee headed by then Industry Minister Narayan Rane, to understand the need for reservation. The committee recommended reservation for Marathas without infringing on the quotas already given to OBCs and other communities.
Based on the Rane Committee’s recommendations, the Prithviraj Chavan-led state government, in June 2014, gave reservation to the Maratha community on the basis of ESBC (educationally and socially backward class). When the government’s move was challenged in the Bombay High Court, it resorted to the Ordinance route to enforce the reservation with immediate effect.
The state government’s move faced flak and was accused of being politically motivated, as the assembly election was barely months away. In November 2014, the High Court stayed the implementation of that Ordinance. In its interim order, a bench headed by Chief Justice Mohit Shah said: “The reservation in Maharashtra has already crossed 50 per cent. The Maratha community is a resourceful community. There are no elements of backwardness. The Rane Committee report suffers from infirmities and is hence defective and can’t be relied upon.”
The High Court’s decision came about a month after the Devendra Fadnavis-led government come to power. In December 2014, the Maharashtra Assembly gave its nod to the Maratha Reservation Bill, which provided 16 per cent reservation to the Maratha community. “We consulted senior legal experts, including the Attorney General of India, after the Bombay High Court issued an interim stay on the Ordinance issued by the previous government… we received partial relief from the Supreme Court. But, as advised by legal experts, we have passed the bill in both Houses of the state legislature,” said the Chief Minister.
But reservation continued to elude the Maratha community as, in December 2014, the Supreme Court refused to vacate the stay on the Ordinance. In 2015, the Bombay High Court stayed the implementation of the Act granting 16 per cent reservation, and that matter is still pending.
After the High court stayed the implementation of the Act, the Fadnavis govt approached the Supreme Court, which asked it to approach the High Court again. On the court’s directions, the State Commission for Backward Classes was set up, but a few months later, its chairman, Justice (retired) Sambhajirao Mhase passed away. It took the government a few months to appoint the new committee head, Justice (retired) M G Gaikwad.
The way ahead
On Saturday, Fadnavis said the commission, which was tasked with ascertaining the extent of social backwardness of the Maratha community, had completed its hearings. The government has asked it to expedite the submission of its report.
Rattled by the “indecisiveness” of the government on their demand, the Maratha community took out 58 mook or silent morchas throughout Maharashtra, and each morcha attracted between two to five lakh participants. At some places, the organisers said as many as 10 lakh people had participated.
But when the demand for reservation remained unmet, leaders of the Maratha community warned that it will launch an aggressive agitation. Last week, the community finally started its agitation from Solapur and Beed districts. They called for Maharashtra bandh and a youth from the community ended his life by jumping in Godavari river in Aurangabad. They also offered to hold talks with the state government.
“There is need for the government to consult constitutional experts and top lawyers about how they can provide protected reservation… which will remain valid in the eyes of the court…,” said Kondhare. Maruti Bhapkar, another Maratha leader, said even if the community became part of the OBC category, it will be “tough” to secure reservation. “There are nearly 370 castes in the OBC category. So, it will be difficult for the community to get reservation,” said Bhapkar.
While the Supreme Court has mandated that reservation can’t exceed 50 per cent, Maharashtra already has 52 per cent reservation. “Along the lines of the Tamil Nadu model, the state government should increase the current OBC quota of 19 per cent by 16 per cent,” he said.
Justice (retired) B G Kolse-Patil said if the Centre passed a Bill pertaining to the issue with two-third majority, reservation for Marathas would be possible. “It can be done… the state needs to nudge the Centre to pass a law,” he said.
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