On Sunday, the Maharashtra Cabinet ratified a decision to grant reservation to the Maratha community under a newly created, independent category. A look at the events leading to the move, and the challenges involved in implementing it:
Who are the Marathas?
They are a Marathi-speaking, politically dominant community in Maharashtra. They make up about one-third of the population of the state. Historically, they have been identified as a warrior class with large land-holdings. Since the formation of Maharashtra state in 1960, 11 of its 18 chief ministers have been from the Maratha community. While division of land and agrarian problems over the years have led to a decline of prosperity among middle-class and lower-middle-class Marathas, the community still plays an important role in the rural economy.
How and when was the decision on reservation taken?
The Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) headed by its chairman, retired Justice G M Gaikwad, submitted a 1,000-page report that said the Maratha community is socially, economically and educationally backward. The MSBCC studied 45,000 families from two villages from each of the 355 talukas that have more than a 50% Maratha population. It found 37.28% of Marathas are living below the poverty line, 62.78% own small and marginal land holdings, and 70% live in kutcha houses. Compared to other communities, the survey found educational backwardness amongst the Maratha community after standards X and XII.
What is the quantum of reservation being planned?
While Maratha community leaders have demanded 16% reservation, the government has not taken a decision on that. A Cabinet subcommittee constituted to implement the quota will fix the quantum. At present, the total reservation in the state is 52%, out of which the larger quotas are for SC (13%), ST (7%) and OBC (19%), with the rest being for Special Backward Class (2%) Vimukti Jati (3%), Nomadic Tribe (B) (2.5%), Nomadic Tribe (C) (Dhangar) (3.5%) and Nomadic Tribe (D) (Vanjari) (2%). The quotas given to the various Nomadic Tribes and Special Backward Class, in fact, have been carved out of the total OBC quota.
Won’t the new quota affect the existing breakup?
The government has said the Maratha quota will not affect the existing reserved sections because the plan is to introduce a new, independent quota, called Socially and Educationally Backward Class. The Maratha Kranti Morcha, which led the reservation agitation, had initially demanded a quota under the OBC category. Before the Cabinet decision, OBC groups had been expressing fears that the new quota would include Marathas within the existing OBC share. While the government has made it clear that this will not happen, OBC groups have also been threatening an agitation because the Nomadic Tribes and Special Backward Class have their quotas within the OBC share. While the OBCs want the 19% raised to 27%, the Dhangar (Shepherd) community has been demanding that they be moved from the OBC to the ST category. Meanwhile, Muslims have intensified their demand for a 5% quota in the wake of the government meeting the Maratha demand.
Won’t a separate quota for Marathas increase the total reservation?
Maharashtra’s reservation is already beyond the Supreme Court cap of 50%. How much the total quota will increase to, will depend on the quantum decided for Marathas. If the demand for 16% is met, for example, the total would become 68%, almost matching the 69% in Tamil Nadu.
If there is a 50% cap, can the state introduce a new quota?
The Supreme Court had set the 50% cap in 1992 (Indra Sawhney vs Union of India). Asked about this, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said: “There is no such provision for a ceiling on quota in the Constitution. On the contrary, the Constitution provides for quota under extraordinary and exceptional cases, when a community’s backwardness is documentarily established.” He cited the example of Tamil Nadu, with 69% reservation. “Although the matter has been challenged, the Supreme Court has not stayed the reservation,” Fadnavis said.
A senior lawyer, on the other hand, said: “ While it is true that there is no provision in the Constitution imposing ceiling on reservation, it has also underlined that reservation should be under exceptional and extraordinary cases. Since the Maharashtra government substantiated the quota based on findings of the MSBCS, it will conform to Constitutional norms. But there is still ambiguity about the legal aspect. The Tamil Nadu matter is pending before the Supreme Court. Therefore, a final verdict on whether the state government can exceed 50% reservation remains a question mark.”
Where do political parties stand on Maratha reservation?
All major political parties are in favour of Maratha reservation. Getting legislation passed in the Assembly and Legislative Council with a two-thirds majority is not expected to be a problem. While the BJP, whose government is led by a Brahmin CM, will hope that the move will ensure Maratha support in the 2019 elections, it will also face a challenge in ensuring that it does not alienate the OBC vote – the party’s mainstay in Maharashtra electoral politics. The two groups have already been polarised in the last two years – the Maratha agitation witnessed 58 silent rallies in its first phase, followed by violent protests and eight suicides in the second. Even Dalits appear polarised against the Marathas. In the past, it was the Congress-NCP that have banked on Maratha support, with NCP chief Sharad Pawar identified as a major leader of the Marathas. Now that the quota is expected to firm up the BJP’s Maratha support base, the challenge for the Congress-NCP, as well as the Shiv Sena, will be to try and address the unrest within the OBC voters.