On November 29 when the state legislature unanimously passed a bill granting 16 per cent reservation to the Maratha community in education and state government jobs chief minister Devendra Fadnavis won the half battle. His next challenge is to justify the quota in court and take into confidence the other agitating community, the Dhangars, who are demanding a status of Scheduled Tribe against the present Vimukt Jati (VJ).
The Marathas have qualified for the quota after the Maharashtra State Backward Commission, appointed in 2015, concluded that the politically influential community is backward in three sectors — social, economic and educational. The Commission headed by retired justice MG Gaikwad concluded that 37.28 per cent Marathas are below poverty line, higher than the base of 25 per cent.
The 62.78 per cent Marathas have small or marginal land holdings, which is again much higher than the base of 48 per cent. Almost 70 per cent of the Marathas live in mud houses double than the norm to be called socially backward.
The findings are contradictory to those of earlier backward commissions headed by SN Khatri and RM Bapat 15 years ago. At that time, these Commissions had concluded that Marathas were socially progressive and did not qualify for reservation.
Another big community, the Dhangars, are also demanding status as a Scheduled Tribe. (Photo: Reuters)
Fadnavis has created a separate category called as Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC) to accommodate the Marathas in a bit of reservation without disturbing the existing 19 per cent quota of the Other Backward Classes (OBC). This has increased the quota in the state to 68 per cent, 18 per cent more than the cap fixed by the Supreme Court. While Fadnavis is confident that the court will approve the quota as a "special case" legal experts are divided on the issue.
Former Attorney General Shrihari Aney said the government will have to back their claim of the Marathas’ backwardness with figures. He agreed that the reservation can go beyond 50 per cent but it needs a solid background and convincing powers to establish the backwardness. On the contrary, the state legal department is hopeful of a positive result as the Marathas are established as backward on paper by a constitutional authority – the Commission.
Fadnavis believes that the Maratha quota will boost the BJP’s chances in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The community has never voted for one particular party in last 20 years. Fadnavis is likely to woo it with his delivery on the quota. At the same time, he has ensured that the OBCs, the BJP’s traditional voters are not upset. His move not to touch the OBC quota will reaffirm the community’s trust in the BJP. However, if the BJP goes beating drums, taking credit for the Maratha reservation the OBCs might disapprove it.
Fadnavis’ battle is not yet over. Another big community, the Dhangars are likely to intensify their agitation demanding status as a Scheduled Tribe.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)