AS REPORT came in of another suicide allegedly over Maratha reservation, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Sunday addressed the community via state television and radio indicating there were no quick fixes, and said his government would be “in a position to complete all statutory requirements for reservation by November-end”.
In a 15-minute address on Sunday evening, Fadnavis ruled out suggestions by some Maratha leaders to issue an ordinance to provide quota to the community. “It won’t stand the legal test,” he said.
Noting that the report of the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) on the issue was pending, he said the panel would inform the Bombay High Court on August 7 about when it would submit its report. Once the MSBCC report was submitted, Fadnavis said, a special session of the state Legislature would be convened within a month to pass a “law or resolution” regarding granting reservation for the community.
The CM said he was saddened by the violent Maratha protests and the reported suicides, and urged community leaders to come forward for a “dialogue”.
Soon after, the Maratha Kranti Morcha (MKM), which is spearheading the agitation, rejected the CM’s outreach and said the protests will continue, including a march in Mumbai on August 9. However, it asked its volunteers across the state to refrain from any violence or damage to public property.
“This is not the first time the state government has declared a deadline for giving reservation. They have never stuck to those deadlines,” MKM state coordinator Nanasaheb Kute Patil said, adding that they would decide on Fadnavis’s offer for a dialogue in a day or two. “Our problem has been that they (the government) invite people affiliated to them or their leaders for a dialogue,” he said.
In the reported suicide on Sunday, 28-year-old Ananta Levade, who was unemployed, set himself on fire in village Digraswadi in Parbhani. Superintendent of Police Krishnakant Upadhyay said he had left behind a note citing the Maratha reservation demand as reason. The family has been promised Rs 5 lakh as relief plus job to a family member.
In July, the MSBCC, which is headed by a retired judge, had conveyed to the state government that it would need another four months to submit its report. Fadnavis said in his speech that his government had requested the commission to expedite the submission, while adding that since the MSBCC was a statutory body, it could not be “pressured”. The panel was in the process of collecting “quantifiable” data on economic backwardness of the community, he said. “About 1.86 lakh evidences and data have been collected.”
The state government had approached the MSBCC on the issue in May 2017, after the Bombay High Court had twice struck down its decision to provide reservation to Marathas. The government believes that it is the commission that can make a case for a quota that can stand legal scrutiny. “The Supreme Court has laid down guidelines for gauging economic backwardness before extending caste-based reservation. Unless these are met, any reservation extended will not stand the legal test,” said Fadnavis.
Besides Maratha reservation, he also spoke about expediting quota for Dhangars (shepherd community). He said the Tata Institute of Social Sciences had been entrusted the task of surveying and submitting a report in connection with Dhangar reservation, and it was expected by the end of this month.
The CM went on to list other “proactive” steps taken by his government on the quota issue and for the welfare of the Marathas and for “the uplift of minorities”, while accusing the previous Congress-NCP regime of overlooking these.
Talking of the planned ‘mega recruitment drive’ for 72,000 jobs, the CM assured that “no injustice” would be done to youth from the Maratha community. The MKM has demaned that this recruitment be stayed till the reservation issue has been resolved.
Contending that violent agitations were “marring” the state’s image of being “progressive and industrious”, Fadnavis in his speech also invoked Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji repeatedly. Since the death of a youth on July 23, the Maratha agitation has seen arson and stone-pelting in several districts of the state.
Incidentally, Fadnavis’s address over TV and radio followed results of the local body polls in Maratha-dominated Sangli in Western Maharashtra, which the BJP won. —with ENS, Parbhani