Even as Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis initiated dialogue with a section of the Maratha leadership to defuse quota anger in the state, the Maratha Kranti Morcha Coordination Committee announced a state-wide agitation starting August 1, while another outfit, the Maratha Coordination Committee, gave a bandh call for Monday.
In a meeting held at Latur on Sunday, the Kranti Morcha committee gave the government two days to enforce a decision on Maratha reservation. The Marathas, who constitute 33 per cent of the state’s population, have been demanding 16 per cent quota in education and employment.
Fadnavis met with the Sakal Maratha Organisation, along with Maharashtra Swabhiman Party president and Rajya Sabha MP Narayan Rane, and assured them of the government’s “commitment” to the welfare of the community. He also said the government had cleared withdrawal of all cases against Maratha youths who had taken to streets during the reservation agitation, except those involved in violence and those related to offences against police.
A Maratha Kranti Morcha leader, requesting anonymity, said the talks wouldn’t change their plans. “Every district is planning its own agenda. There is no uniformity,” he said, making it clear that while some were ready for talks with the government, others were sceptical.
Meanwhile, with an eye on how the Maratha demand is playing out, other communities across the state are ramping up their quota demands. The Dhanghar community has warned of a street agitation to press for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe category. In Vidarbha, there is a growing unrest among the Halba-Kosti community, as their ST status has been challenged in court. The OBCs are consolidating, demanding higher quota to accommodate all their sub-castes.
Of the total 52 per cent reservations in the state, the quota for Scheduled Castes is 13 per cent, STs 7 per cent, OBCs 19 per cent, and denotified nomadic tribes and special backward category together 13 per cent. The OBCs believe they should get at least 27 per cent.
NCP president Sharad Pawar’s announcement that his party would move a proposal in Parliament demanding a provision within the Constitution to accommodate reservation for Marathas is set to be countered by the OBCs. The Other Backward Caste Aarakshan Samiti chief, Anil Mahajan, told The Indian Express, “We are going to file a PIL in the Bombay High Court seeking a higher quota for the OBCs.”
Admitting that there is “no quick-fix solution to these problems pending before courts”, another OBC leader, requesting anonymity, said, “If Marathas are given economically and socially backward caste status, it would open a Pandora’s box. There would be 1,009 communities within Maharashtra which would challenge the decision of the state government in court.”
The Maharashtra State Dhangar Welfare Association led by Prakash Shendge has convened a meeting on July 31 to mount pressure for its demand. With a population of one crore, the Dhangars form a decisive vote bank in the state, especially in Western Maharashtra. On Saturday, Fadnavis assured that the government was waiting for a report by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences on the Dhangars, and that based on this, it would present its recommendations before the Centre.
BJP Rajya Sabha MP Vikas Mahatme, who belongs to the Dhangar community and is a Padma Shri, said the community had been deprived of its rights due to a small mistake. “Due to a topographical error, ‘Dhangar’ became ‘Dhangad’ in the Centre’s list.” So the Dhangars couldn’t avail of the ST benefit.
Mahatme also advocated a weighted index system to ensure that only those who were genuinely socially and economically backward got the benefits of reservation.
The Halba-Koshti agitation in Vidarbha is being spearheaded by the Rashtriya Aadmin Kruti Samiti. Its leader, Nanda Parate, said, “Our ST status accorded by the Constitution has been challenged. We are not getting any relief from the BJP regime. Those Halba-Koshti people in jobs who availed the ST benefits are getting termination notices. We have registered 700 cases so far of individuals who have lost jobs or have had their pensions stopped.”
Parate said that the recent setback to the BJP in the Gondia-Bhandara Lok Sabha bypoll — where the BJP lost to the NCP — was due to the community’s anger. “If it remains unresolved, the community will go against the BJP government in the state,” he said.
However, sources in the state government said their hands were tied. “The decision to take away the ST status of the community and put it in the special backward category was done after a thorough study, under the directives of the court and a commission. Therefore, the state government cannot intervene. It is not under the state’s jurisdiction.”
While STs enjoy 7 per cent reservation, the share of special backward categories is around 2 per cent, with its impact felt especially in government jobs.
A senior officer in the Law and Judiciary Department said the government was in a similar bind over all such demands. “Whether it is the Marathas, Dhangars or Halba-Koshtis, the OBCs or Lingayats, none of the demands is within the state government’s jurisdiction. In each of these cases, the matter will have to be addressed through Constitutional provisions or fought in the Supreme Court.”
Prof Satish Gaikwad, a Maratha himself, noted that the state government had to accept its share of the blame too. “Notwithstanding the reservation demand, the biggest failure of the administration is in enforcing welfare schemes for the economically backward Maratha youths. If the government ensured that 50 per cent fee subsidy for students seeking admissions in higher and professional courses alone was implemented by all colleges, almost half the battle would be won,” he said.
The concerns of students were education and jobs, he added, and if these were addressed, students would not take to the streets even if provoked by politicians.