Maharashtra govt appears ready to grant Maratha reservation, but steps unlikely with matter still sub judice

On the face of it, it looks like reservation for the Maratha community in Maharashtra is a done deal. No political party opposes it, with all of them tacitly backing the Maratha Kranti Morcha's demand. Even the Shiv Sena, which has always opposed caste-based reservations, has now expressed support for quota for the Marathas, demanding a special session of the Maharashtra Assembly.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is officially committed to the cause. But being the party in power, it cannot afford to take any chances by promulgating an Ordinance granting the quota as a court-ordered survey of the community is on. The commission, though, has been exceedingly slow with the process, slow enough for the Marathas to get edgy.

 Maharashtra govt appears ready to grant Maratha reservation, but steps unlikely with matter still sub judice

File image of a Maratha protest. PTI

The Marathas, as represented by the morcha, have been trying to keep the issue out of covert politics. Leaders of the community had disowned the meeting Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had called a few days ago and questioned its purpose, saying there was nothing to discuss. Politicians, however, did attend it because sooner or later, there are brownie points to bag. This makes it evident that efforts are being made to play a smoke-and-mirrors game.

No doubt, the entire approach to secure the demand has changed — MLAs have resigned for the political mileage it offers, though nearly all are merely gestures that may not end up with them ceasing to be members of the legislature; some supporters have even killed themselves; and the morcha itself is trying to maintain its non-political façade.

Fadnavis has to remain positive amid the agitation for Maratha quota. He could also try to buy time by saying that if the government does decide to promulgate an ordinance, it had better be foolproof to avoid legal entanglements and the ire of the community. He would be right, too, for the court has sought numbers, and it would be inadvisable to fiddle with a matter that is sub judice.

While this is one aspect of the situation, the chief minister cannot be seen procrastinating on the reservation demand either. He also faces the possibility of the Opposition getting more aggressive and escalating the matter to a level where electoral dividends can be extracted out of the issue, with the Assembly polls next year. One can assume that this is why the Shiv Sena has had a change of heart in its philosophy on reservations, where the criterion should be only economic.

This explains why Fadnavis has announced that district-level committees, comprising government officials and representatives from the Maratha group, will be formed to examine what the community currently has. When faced with a difficult choice, set up a committee — this is the path the government usually takes, notwithstanding that committees take their time to even start functioning.

It is not a coincidence that the ratio of the Maratha community in government jobs and other parastatal organisations has already crossed 13 percent, including in jobs in educational institutes. This could be an attempt to blunt the edge of the Maratha reservation demand, at least till the court works out something that is acceptable to them. What is needed now is a press conference for Fadnavis to clear the air, or at least covert measures to avoid being seen as partisan.

While the morcha maintains that Marathas make up only 8 percent of the workforce, not 13 percent, this means that the community is not without jobs. However, the conundrum here is that the figure may not be proportional to the size of the community. The data the government submitted to the commission on the community's current status could be why Marathas feel backward despite holding significant power in Maharashtra.

The reservation dispute is not entirely unwelcome as politicians revel in them. As an issue develops, it gives the government time to make concrete the steps it may already have in mind to resolve the matter. This is perhaps why the issue of the Maratha quota demand could be in the news for a while.

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Updated Date: Aug 01, 2018 18:49:22 IST