The Eknath Shinde-BJP government’s announcement close on the heels of the Supreme Court’s Thursday order — warning the Maharashtra State Election Commission (SEC) of contempt action if it renotifies the election process with regard to 367 local bodies in order to provide 27% Other Backward Classes (OBCs) reservation there — that it would move a review petition in the apex court betrays the ruling alliance’s apprehension of a political backlash on the issue. The announcement was made by Deputy Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis.
Sources in the SEC said that the panel was yet to receive the apex court’s order on the basis of which it will decide its next course of action.
A political row has been raging in Maharashtra for over two years over the issue of the OBC reservation in local body polls. When it was in the Opposition, the BJP had accused the previous Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government of allegedly working against the interests of OBCs by not following the “triple test” ordered by the apex court for ensuring 27% OBC quota in the state’s local bodies.
The BJP, which claims to enjoy the support of a major section of OBCs, had even accused the MVA — a coalition of the Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress — of allegedly making a bid to put an end to the OBC reservation in local urban and rural bodies. The Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA had, in turn, accused the BJP-led central government of not sharing the empirical data on OBCs in Maharashtra.
During the MVA government’s tenure, the Maharashtra Assembly unanimously passed a resolution seeking OBC census in the state.
In March 2022, when the apex court rejected the interim report of the Maharashtra Backward Class Commission, the state Assembly even passed a resolution in favour of not holding the elections in the state until the OBC reservation is restored.
On July 9, the Banthia Commission – a dedicated panel set up by the MVA government in March 2022 for collating empirical data on state OBCs — submitted its report to the Shinde-BJP government, recommending 27 per cent OBC reservation in local bodies. On July 20, the apex court accepted the Banthia panel report and allowed 27 per cent OBC quota in the coming local body polls, thereby resolving a protracted stalemate over the issue. In the wake of this order, the OBC reservation will now come into force in the state’s local bodies on the basis of the OBC population there. According to the top court’s order, however, it must be ensured that the total quotas, including those meant for the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and OBCs, do not exceed 50 per cent of the total seats in the local bodies.
In this background, the apex court’s direction that the new policy providing 27 per cent OBC reservation will not apply to the 367 local bodies where the election process had already commenced, is set to hurt the fledgling ruling alliance politically. “The government is bound to appeal against it. At a time when this government was claiming victory in ensuring OBC reservation, an election will be held without it. It damages the optics for this government,” said a source working with the government.
The ruling camp, especially the BJP, is fearing that the development may deal a blow to its OBC vote bank in these local bodies across the state. None of a slew of its OBC leaders, which the BJP had deployed to target the MVA over the issue earlier, has made any comment since the top court’s latest order, leaving the saffron party to field Fadnavis to make a statement.
“All local bodies in Maharashtra, except these (367) municipal bodies, have OBC reservation following the July 20 decision of the Supreme Court. We find it strange that the court gave this order as in its last hearing itself it had ruled in favour of postponing the local body polls. Since no notification on the new poll dates has been issued, the previous one announcing postponement of the polls stands valid. The state will present this position in the court,” Fadnavis said.
Sensing an opportunity ahead of the local body polls, the Opposition MVA slammed the government, asking Chief Minister Shinde and Fadnavis to take up the OBC reservation among other important issues with the Centre instead of merely discussing their cabinet expansion with the BJP leadership during their frequent trips to Delhi.
Taking aim at the Shinde-Fadnavis government, Maharashtra NCP president Jayant Patil said, “The two leaders are visiting Delhi, trying to appease the rebels. At the same time, a section in the BJP is unhappy over Fadnavis being given the Deputy CM’s post. In all of this, the government has no time to concentrate on the OBC reservation issue which resulted in the apex court’s Thursday verdict.”
Congress state president Nana Patole said the Shinde-Fadnavis dispensation should focus on a legal battle to get the apex court’s ruling reversed instead of worrying about the stability of their government. “The Congress is of the opinion that no election should be held without OBC reservation,” he asserted.