With the elections round the corner, all-out efforts are being made to let out the genie of Maratha reservations out of the bottle. The Congress–NCP government in Maharashtra, bowing to the growing demand of the Maratha organisations, has constituted a committee headed by the state industries and employment minister Narayan Rane to study the demand and make recommendations. The committee will soon start touring the state.
The different politicians associated with this movement have their own arguments. Senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde says that providing reservations to the deprived classes was the need of the hour. “Eighty per cent of the Marathas are backward and hence the government should immediately provide reservations to them in educational institutions and in jobs,” says Munde. On the other hand, Madhukar Rao of the NCP says: “Reservation is a sensitive issue. We have constituted the Narayan Rane committee to look into all aspects of the issue. We should wait for the report of the committee.” Dalit Republican leader Ramdas Athavale, however, makes a direct pitch for reservations for Marathas without any ifs and buts.
Social organisations have a different take on the issue. FORWARD Press talked to the groups associated with the Maratha agitation. Prof. Shravan Devre, President of OBC Arakshan Bachao Samiti (committee for the protection of OBC reservations) quotes a Marathi saying Kunbi Maatla, Aami Maratha Jhala. He says, “The Mandal Commission had included Kunbis among the OBCs. The Kunbis, basically, are Marathas. But the Marathas consider Kunbis, who are economically weaker, as inferior. When a large number of Kunbis started getting selected from the OBC quota, it hurt the ego of the Marathas, who consider themselves to be superior and more civilised. Hence, they started demanding reservation for themselves. When Kunbis, who are Marathas, are already in the ambit of OBC reservations, there is no need for separate reservations to the Marathas. In case the government, for political benefit, wants to give them reservation, it can do so but by making a separate, special provision. The OBCs have no objection to it.” The views of Shashikant Pawar, the president of All India Maratha Sangh are different. “Three former successive chief ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh, Ashok Chavan and Prithiviraj Chavan assured that Marathas will be given reservation but did nothing to keep their promise. When the Haryana government can give 10 per cent reservation to the Rajputs of that state, why is the Maharashtra government dragging its feet on giving reservation to Marthas is difficult to understand. That is why, we are struggling to secure the rights of the Marathas, who are economically weak and facing large-scale unemployment. We won’t rest till we get justice for the Marathas,” Pawar says.
Marathas and reservations
Officially, there is no caste called Marathas in the country. All the residents of Maharashtra, who associate themselves with Shivaji are called Marathas. The state chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar are both Marathas and so are most of the cabinet ministers. The Marathas control most of the sugar mills and are dominant in the socio-political and economic spheres in Maharashtra. The Marathas are the support base of both the NCP and the Congress.
In 1902, Shahuji Maharaj, a descendent of Shivaji and the ruler of Kolhapur, for the first time in the country, gave 50 per cent reservations to Bahujans in the services under his government. The Marathas were included in this 50 per cent reservation. In 1982, when Babasaheb Bhonsle was the chief minister, Anna ji, an MLA, had, for the first time raised the demand for reservations for the Marathas. Since then, a plethora of committees were formed to consider the issue but with no result.
Initially, the Marathas demanded that they should be included among the OBCs. But when the OBCs opposed the demand, they changed their stance and began seeking separate reservation for them, without tinkering with the OBC quota.
Presently, the ball is the court of the NCP–Congress coalition government. But one thing is for sure. Whatever decision the government takes will have long-term and profound impact on the politics and society of Maharashtra.
Published in the September 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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