Maratha quota: Devendra Fadnavis has little legroom to oblige community as 2019 elections may prove to be a litmus test

When NT Rama Rao, the Telugu cine star won the 1983 elections to the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, one essential factor, apart from Telugu pride, was the backward classes (BC) backlash against what they thought was too much attention to the SCs and STs while BCs were side-lined.

Would Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis develop that kind of a strategy — mind you, in the early 1980s of Andhra Pradesh, it happened naturally without politicians even talking much about the BC grievances indicating the simmering caste divides — to beat back the Maratha clamour for quotas? The jury would be out on this in thee party backrooms already for the polls are quite close for comfort.

 Maratha quota: Devendra Fadnavis has little legroom to oblige community as 2019 elections may prove to be a litmus test

Maratha leaders protest for reservations for the community under the OBC category. PTI

He wouldn’t have much autonomy because Maharashtra is a dicey state in so far as the 2019 Lok Sabha and then the Assembly elections are concerned because anything done or not done has to fit the matrix that Amit Shah is developing. It has to been seen if Fadnavis takes a chance and persuades Shah.

On the face of it, ignoring about a third of the population of a state to bind together the others into a phalanx of voters favourable to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is electorally risky. In a state where majority of cooperatives are controlled mostly by Marathas, a new poll-related social engineering could be tough. It needs time to fashion.

In so far as the demands of the Maratha Kranti Morcha is concerned, two of its demands have already been met – prosecution of the rapists of Kopardi and their punishment, and the Supreme Court disallowing "instant arrest: of people against whom complaints are filed for crimes under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, or the SC-ST Act.

The community is aware that the matter of 16 percent reservation for them had been stayed by the court, is now being studied by a Commission as suggested by the Bombay High Court to fix the numbers, and any action by the Maharashtra government could be contemptuous of the court. Fadnavis has spoken of this fact.

If the state went ahead with filling up some 72,000 posts in a mass drive, he has assured, there would still be room for finding the community youth jobs to meet the 16 percent demand. He cannot opt for an ordinance and attract the ire of the courts. The state’s plea in the apex court against the earlier high court order did not succeed.

It is in this background that we need to see the sudden revival of demand for the quota and its escalation to a violence of the kind comes as a surprise. Suicides, arson, massive public disorder was not expected of the agitators who held 58 silent morchas across the state. They were the much-lauded orderly agitators, never been seen or heard of before, and spread over much of a year.

The point is that the Commission has been set up and is apparently not in the line to receive data on backwardness without which, no progress could be made. Even the demanded ordinance on quotas would wend its way to the court ultimately. The immediate provocation, if any, for the restart of the stir in a violent way, remains a mystery. The resignation of MLAs should now give us an idea of how it is getting political from what was essentially a socio-economic issue.

Such a massive arrangement including T-shirts, caps, mobilisation of volunteers etc. does cost money and the suspicion that political parties excluding BJP may have covertly supported it, does remain. Despite the intense clamour for quotas among them, it could not necessarily have been a simple WhatApp mobilisation. This, of course, is rubbished by the Maratha Kranti Morcha.  But even established political parties, including those in power, struggle to ensure good attendance at rallies.

Many non-BJP leaders had been seen at many of the silent morchas, walking behind people they would otherwise have led – a strange spectacle indeed – does eloquently express their support for the cause. Now the Congress has demanded a special session of the legislature on this matter, and NCP has said that together, all quotas could go as high as 70 percent.

The sudden burst of violence, so intense that despite the bandh being called off at 3 pm, the violence did persist till the evening should imply two possibilities. One, after the long break from mobilisation, the agitators’ communication network has broken down, and two, the likely covert but different involvement of political parties in stoking the fire.

That the elections are just around the corner, that the Shiv Sena, despite abstaining from the no-trust debate and vote in Lok Sabha continues to be a serious thorn in the flesh, that the other political parties are unsure of the BJP-Sena relationship’s existence or even contours for the next year’s poll does raise suspicion that street level politics has been brought to life.

Fadnavis has his task cut out. Whatever he does would either be brave or foolhardy, depending on the impact it has on the 2019 elections. He does not seem to have much room, and that elders like Sharad Pawar who do have influence among the Marathas – Pawar is not limited to Marathas – aren’t helping. They are not even thinking of mediating to sort out a sticky problem, because, at the end of the day, all of them play politics.

Updated Date: Jul 26, 2018 13:14:34 IST