The Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government is running the risk of alienating the state's upper castes that fall under the general category, after the cabinet approved an ordinance to amend the act that will provide reservation to students of the Maratha community in post-graduate medical courses in the state. The promulgation of the ordinance is likely to eat into the share of seats for general quota students.
In a special meeting called by the chief minister on Friday, the Cabinet also gave its approval to reimburse the fees to the candidates from the general category. A minister said the general category students can seek admission under management quota in private colleges.
According to Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil, the state government will approach the Supreme Court to extend the admission time frame from 25 to 31 May. "We will also seek additional 213 seats in the medical courses," he said. Patil added that the state government will file caveats in the Bombay High Court and its Aurangabad and Nagpur benches and the apex court to ensure the ordinance is not challenged.
The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court had disallowed to grant 16 percent reservation to Maratha community for admissions to post-graduate medical courses on the grounds that the admission process had begun much earlier.
The high court had contended that the government's decision to introduce the quota was unconstitutional. The division bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and Pushpa Ganediwala had said that the 8 March notification (about the new quota) shall not be applicable to the admission process, which had started earlier.
The Supreme Court had upheld the high court's decision.
On Thursday, the Maharashtra government had moved the Election Commission seeking permission to promulgate the ordinance as the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is still in place. The poll panel granted permission for the same.
Why move might affect BJP's traditional vote bank
The communities that form the general category have been expressing resentment with the Marathas' stubborn and prominent campaign for reservation — the Marathas constitute 33 percent of the population in the state — ever since the demand caught pace in November last year.
The upper caste communities have traditionally backed the BJP even as the RSS-backed party has made inroads among significant OBC sub-castes. However, in recent times, the socially and economically privileged groups have increasingly exhibited signs of opting for the option of 'None of the above' (NOTA) in elections, because of "disinterest in voting for a party 'placating' Dalits".
Ahead of the Maharashtra government buckling under the pressure of providing quota to the Marathas, experts had warned that the move might "infuriate" the upper castes as it significantly shrinks the general quota. Analysts also accused the BJP government of pursuing the "politics of pacification".
A Firstpost report titled, "BJP's attempt to placate socially dominant caste may eat away from its traditional vote bank", published on 16 November, 2018 said, "The announcement will also anger Dalits in Maharashtra for they have been at loggerheads and at the receiving end of Marathas for long, and are opposed to the dominant community being extended the same privilege. The BJP's problems are compounded by sections of Marathas being resentful of Dalits and other beneficiaries of reservations as they have acquired economic and political clout."
Soon after the Marathas were granted the quota in November 2018, the Brahmins in the state demanded reservations for the community too. The Akhil Bhartiya Brahman Mahasangh sought a similar privilege for his community, arguing that a huge section of the Brahmins in the state was backward and that those performing religious duties as priests had work only for 120 days a year.
Leaders of the organisation claimed that the children of these priests don’t have enough money to complete their education, and therefore, they need reservation.
However, reports at the time had said that the demand was unlikely to be fulfilled and could have "blown up in the face of the BJP in caste-driven Maharashtra", and it did indeed lose steam in a few days.
Fadnavis, who is a Brahmin himself, received a lot of flak for the delay in according reservations to the Marathas. The demand by the Brahmin community, however, shows that almost all the ‘upper caste’ communities who once enjoyed dominance in the social sphere, are now lagging.
With inputs from agencies
Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.
Updated Date: May 17, 2019 18:57:30 IST