The issue of Maratha reservation has stirred up once again in Maharashtra after four years, with the police lathi-charge incident during the protest in Jalna gaining spotlight.
After the Jalna incident, the angry Maratha community has begun holding protests in different parts of the state, including in deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar’s hometown in Baramati.
Activist Manoj Jarange, who has been sitting on fast for the last 15 days, has one straight demand — reservation for Marathas.
The state government had decided to give the OBC certificates to the Marathas of Marathwada, but has now formed a committee, which will issue the Kunbi caste certificates from the region to those who possess revenue or education documents from the Nizam era that recognise them as Kunbis.
Jarange is adamant that Marathas across Maharashtra be considered as Kunbis and the government should issue a caste certificate to avail the OBC quota. He further said the state government had issued a Government Resolution (GR) in 2004 promising to give Kunbi caste certificates to Maratha-Kunbis, Kunbi-Marathas and Kunbis. But for the last 19 years, it has not been implemented which the state government should do immediately by revising the GR.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde had called an all-party meeting late Monday evening on the issue of Maratha reservation where a resolution was passed unanimously that Jarange should end his protest and allow retired Justice Sandeep Shinde committee some time to work on the issue.
It was also decided in the meeting that Jarange can nominate a person from his camp to be a member of the Shinde committee. The state government has also started the process to retract all offences registered against the Maratha community during the Jalna incident.
Maharashtra’s 30% population comprises Marathas, according to the last caste census that happened in 1931. For more than 20 years, the community is asking for the reservation in education and government jobs.
During 2017-18, the community also held many silent protests across the state, which forced then BJP-Shiv Sena government to give 16% reservation to the community. The reason behind the move was to seek the support of the Marathas and portray Congress and NCP are weaklings for not being able to resolve the issue for years.
But that idea didn’t work for the BJP-Sena alliance as the issue was taken up by the Bombay High Court, which upheld the constitutional validity of the Maharashtra government’s bill, and proposed to slash the 16% quota to 12% in educational institutions and 13% in government appointments as recommended by the State Commission for Backward Classes. This upset the BJP-Sena government led by Devendra Fadnavis.
During the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in the state, the issue reached the door of the Supreme Court in 2021, which quashed the law that granted reservation to Marathas, saying there was no need to revisit its 1992 verdict capping quota at 50%.
The SC said there were no “exceptional circumstances” or an “extraordinary situation” in Maharashtra for the state government to breach the limit. In addition, it ruled that the state had no authority to accord socially and economically backward status to a community: only the president can tweak the central list of socially and backward classes, said the court. States can only make “suggestions”.
Now, when the BJP is in power again in Maharashtra, the issue of Maratha reservation is beginning to haunt them. The option with CM Shinde now remains that the state government expands the overall quota from its existing 50% so that the Marathas can get the reservation.
The idea does not bode well as it may pacify protesting Jarange and the Marathas for the time being but will have a larger impact on the community from other parts of the state, especially western Maharashtra.
Certainly, they will protest the government and its move. If the government is considering the records of Nizam for the reservation of Marathas of the Marathwada region, then what documents will it check when it comes to the community from western Maharashtra, Konkan, Vidarbha, Khandesh, which was never ruled under the Nizam?
The Shinde-Fadnavis-Pawar government does not have the answer to this question.
Giving ‘Kunbi’ cast certificates to avail the reservation under the OBC quota can be seen as a solution for one region but the Marathas from the other region will not agree to it. Moreover, the OBC community will also get hurt as the Marathas will get added up in their quota.
There are also voices in the favour of caste census as the last one took place in 1931. This may give a clear idea about all castes and their statuses in Maharashtra. Till the time the issue of the Maratha reservation is not resolved, the government will remain burdened.
With the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections approaching, there is no doubt that the Maratha reservation issue will certainly become a headache for the current BJP-Sena government if it does not find a solution soon.