Sunday, Dec 04, 2022

As Shinde-BJP & Sena jostle for Maratha votes, quota demand back on table

Last week, Maharashtra CM and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis met Maratha leaders. The following day, Shiv Sena announced a tie-up with Maratha outfit Sambhaji Brigade.

Though Marathas in Maharashtra are near the top of the caste hierarchy — the Mandal Commission identified them as a “forward” caste. (File photo)

The Maratha reservation issue had been on the back burner in Maharashtra since May 2021 when the Supreme Court struck down a state law granting reservation to the community. But three incidents last week brought it back to the fore in Maharashtra’s political discourse, underscoring the Maratha community’s importance to political parties’ electoral fortunes.

First, on August 23, former Rajya Sabha MP Chhatrapati Sambhaji Raje wrote to Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, stating a need to again refer the reservation issue to the Maharashtra State Backward Classes Commission (MSBCC) for collection of quantifiable data on the community. Raje reminded Shinde that when he was on a hunger strike at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan in February, the CM, at the time a minister in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, had assured him that a survey would be conducted after reconstituting the backward classes commission to prove that the Maratha community is educationally and socially backward. Sambhaji Raje’s voice carries weight in Maharashtra as he is a descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji.

Then, on the last day of the state Assembly’s monsoon session, Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis met Maratha leaders to discuss the various issues concerning them and the steps to be taken to reinstate the reservation for the community.

The following day, Shiv Sena president and former CM Uddhav Thackeray announced an electoral tie-up with the Sambhaji Brigade that is known for its aggressive championing of the causes of the Maratha youth. The outfit, which was founded three decades ago and derives its name from Chhatrapati Shivaji’s son, has struck a chord with certain sections of the community. The Sena is expecting the alliance to benefit it in rural areas, especially Marathwada.

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Who are Marathas?

Marathas are predominantly peasants (kunbi) and have historically been a warrior (Kshatriya) caste. Though Marathas in Maharashtra are near the top of the caste hierarchy — the Mandal Commission identified them as a “forward” caste — the reservation demand has its roots in the unequal distribution of wealth and power within the community.

As per several estimates, Marathas constitute around one-third of Maharashtra’s population, making them a strong electoral group that all parties want on their side. Of the 20 chief ministers Maharashtra has had to date, 12 have been from the Maratha community. This influence is seen in legislative representation as well. The community has a dominant presence in cooperative bodies such as cooperative banks and sugar mills that drive the politics in rural Maharashtra. Members of the community also run some of the biggest educational institutes in the country such as DY Patil University and Bharati University.

The concentration of power and money is not uniform. A section of landless labourers and farmers with small landholdings from drought-affected areas such as Marathwada, north Maharashtra, and parts of west Vidarbha are among the most vocal proponents of the reservation demand. A large chunk of the mass base of Maratha organisations such as the Maratha Mahasangh, the Sambhaji Brigade, and Chhawa is from these areas.


In contrast, the middle class of the Maratha community still has its roots in the rural economy but is not entirely dependent on it and the influential upper class of the community has been in power since Independence irrespective of political affiliations. The reservation demand is driven from the bottom of the pyramid, forcing the decision-making elite at the top to agree to it.

The demand over the years

Possibly the first public display of the reservation demand happened in 1981 when Mathadi Labour Union leader Annasaheb Patil held a demonstration in Mumbai. After Patil’s death the following year, the issue disappeared from the political discourse.

The Mandal Commission episode in the late 1980s instilled hope for Marathas but the matter fizzled out and in 1997 the Maratha Mahasangh held an agitation demanding reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. A committee under then Congress minister Narayan Rane was appointed to look into the issue. Based on this report, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government announced a 16 per cent quota for the community in the run-up to the 2014 Assembly elections. But the Bombay High Court stayed this decision and another move by the government to give a five per cent quota to Muslims. The Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP-Shiv Sena government went to the Supreme Court in November 2014 to appeal against the High Court order but the top court refused to vacate the stay.


From 2016 onwards, in the aftermath of a rape case in Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district, the community started organising massive silent rallies across the state. The Maratha Kranti Morchas, as they became known, raised the reservation issue, among other things. Former MLC Vinayak Mete, one of the prime leaders behind the morchas, died last month in a road accident.

The following year, in June 2017, the Fadnavis government constituted the MSBCC headed by Justice (retired) MG Gaikwad to study the social, financial and educational status of the Maratha community. The commission submitted its report in November 2018, classifying Marathas as a socially and educationally backward class (SEBC). The same month, the Maharashtra Assembly unanimously passed a Bill granting Marathas 16 per cent reservation in education and government jobs.

The Bombay High Court upheld the constitutional validity of the law but reduced the quota to 12 per cent in education and 13 per cent in jobs. In the Supreme Court, the matter was referred to a five-member Constitution bench, which unanimously agreed that there was no need to revisit the 1992 Indira Sawhney judgment that had fixed the total reservation limit at 50 per cent and unanimously struck down the state law granting reservation to the Marathas.

With the issue of OBC reservation in civic bodies sorted through a court verdict, the Shinde-Fadnavis government is likely to now work on solving the Maratha reservation issue.

First published on: 30-08-2022 at 12:44:04 pm
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