It was in the year 1993 when the demand to include Marathas in reservation categories was first raised.
The Maratha Quota stir hit Mumbai on Wednesday. The organizers of the Maratha Kranti Morcha declared a Mumbai Bandh. The streets of Mumbai were flooded with the Maratha Protestors. Though, the Bandh has been called off, the protest by Maratha community has already created ripples. But why the Maratha community-one of the electorally powerful community in Maharashtra is protesting?
The main goal of the Maratha quota stir is to secure a certain percentage of reservation in Education and Government Jobs. Broadly, the Maratha Quota agitation can be identified with Patidar reservation demand. Like Patidar community, Maratha community holds constitutes a significant percentage of Maharashtra’s population and is electorally significant. The dominance of Marathas in Maharashtrian politics can be understood by the sheer number of Chief Ministers from the community. Right from Maharashtra’s first Chief Minister Yashvantrao Chavhan to Prithviraj Chavan, as many as 11 Chief Ministers were from the Maratha community. The powerful community stands 32% of the entire population of Maharashtra and dominates 80% of the total 288 assembly seats in the state.
Maratha Reservation demand:
The demand for reservation to Maratha community is not recently founded. Though it revived again on a massive scale after Kopardi gang-rape case, the demand has been there for over two decades. It was in 1993 when the demand to include Marathas in reservation categories was raised. In the 1990s, the National Front government led by V. P. Singh implemented the Mandal Commission recommendations.
The Mandal Commission, or the Socially Backward Classes Commission set up in the 1980s was tasked with identifying the “socially or educationally backward classes” of India. The commission in its study found out that the Other Backward Castes comprise 52% of India’s population. The commission also recommended that the OBCs be given 27% reservation in government jobs. The report was pushed under the sheets due to the political ramification, however, the V. P. Singh government revived it.
As the implementation of the recommendations came into effect, the then Maharashtra government added Kunbi community in the OBC category but omitted the Maratha. This did not go down well with the Maratha community which contested that Marathas and Kunbis are the same.
In December 2009, 18 Maratha organizations came under umbrella banner of the Maratha Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti (MASS). The organization led many protests stoking caste politics in the state. It was in 2014 when Congress-NCP government was battling Anti-incumbency, the Maharashtra government gave in to demands of Maratha community. The then Congress-NCP government created a separate category called Educationally and Socially Backward Category (ESBC) for Marathas and granted 16% reservation. However, Bombay High Court struck the order down.
Are Marathas really Backward?
The term “Backward” here stands as a key contention. Backwards can be defined as those set of people or communities that are socially, educationally and economically disadvantaged. Does the Maratha community fit on these parameters? The answer is both yes and no. The Maratha community similar to Patels in Gujrat comes under Kshatriya Varna. Historically, the community is regarded as a warrior community but the later generations settled in agriculture and the community came to be known as the agriculturist. Thus, unlike other communities, Dalits for example, they do not have any social stigma attached to them.
The Marathas has enough representation in lower level government jobs but is still underrepresented in Class-I jobs in engineering, medicine, etc. Thus, the educational status of the overall community should be under scrutiny.
The Marathas in Western Maharashtra is considered politically influential and wealthy community. This is due to the growth of co-operative sectors in the region. Western Maharashtra has a huge share in state’s co-operative banks, co-operative sugar factories, co-operative milk industry, etc. The local Marathas thus emerged as the wealthy and prestigious community. The Marathas from Western Maharashtra also became a dominant force in state’s politics.
However, this does not imply that every Maratha has the economically strong background. There is a vast majority of Marathas that resides in Marathwada, Vidarbha and Khandesh which has seen the worst track record in farmer’s suicide. The area has been one of the worst drought-hit areas. The increasing debt, lack of agricultural facilities, low yield has made the occupation difficult for the Marathas.
However, in 2003-04, National Commission for Backward Classes didn’t approve OBC status for Marathas. Even in 2008, the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission had declared Marathas economically and politically a forward caste. However, with OBC already having 27% of reservation, the total amount of reservation has gone up to 49%. Granting reservation to Marathas will violate Supreme Court ruling putting 50% cap on the reservation. This was also the very reason why the Bombay High Court had struck it down.
However, Tamil Nadu has set an example in this context. The state has 69% reservation. Following Tamil Nadu’s step, Maharashtra first has to prove that more than 50% of the state’s population is backward and then it can pass an act.