The issue of reservation for Marathas is likely to dominate Maharashtra politics in the near future
The Maharashtra government, facing fire over the Supreme Court judgment striking down quotas for Marathas, has extended benefits under the the economically weaker section (EWS) quota to the community.
The decision can be seen as a part of the Maha Vikas Aghadi’s efforts to placate the politically dominant community and show its commitment to providing reservations to them.
The state government has also extended till 7 June the tenure of the Justice Dilip Bhosale Committee, set up to review the apex court’s 5 May verdict and advise the state on the future course of action. Earlier, the multi-member committee was supposed to submit its report on or before 31 May.
The issue of reservation for Marathas is, thus, likely to dominate Maharashtra politics in the near future.
The Maharashtra government on 31 May extended the benefits of the EWS quota to Marathas through a government order (GO) to this effect issued by the General Administration Department (GAD).
At present, a 10 percent EWS quota is in force for those sections of the society which are not covered by any kind of reservations. The central law on the EWS quota was enacted more than two years ago to allow reservation for the poor in jobs and education among the general category.
The GAD order said the Maratha community, which has been classified as a Socially and Economically Backward Class (SEBC), can avail the 10 per cent EWS quota.
The EWS quota will be applicable to the community from the period of interim stay (on Maratha reservation) on 9 September, 2020, to the final verdict by the Supreme Court in 5 May this year, the government order said.
The move comes nearly a month after the Supreme Court quashed a Maharashtra government law granting reservations for Marathas in educational admissions and government jobs. The court ruled that the Maratha community cannot be declared as educationally and socially backward. It also held that the law — Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018 — exceeds the ceiling limit of 50 percent laid down by the judgment in the Indra Sawhney case, and is thus violative of Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution.
The apex court’s order puts the Maha Vikas Aghadi government on the backfoot, with the BJP keen to gain the advantage. The Maratha community constitutes about 32 percent of the state’s population, and thus, plays a key role in the state’s politics.
The Maratha Kranti Morcha has accused the state government for not presenting enough documentary proof and asserting its case before the Supreme Court, as noted by The Indian Express. It has argued that the Centre’s 10 percent reservation was also challenged in court, but it was not struck down as the Centre adequately defended the law.
The announcement allowing Marathas to avail of the EWS is unlikely to help the state government much. This is because the Marathas will have to compete with others in the open category for the 10 percent quota. The quota earmarked for the community, which has now been quashed, was to the extent of 12 percent in jobs and 13 percent in education.
The Maha Vikas Aghadi, on its part, has tried to place the onus on the Centre. On 31 May, an editorial in the Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamana read, “The Maratha community has made a major contribution to Maharashtra’s development. But today, this proud and hard-working community is struggling financially. This is why the Maharashtra government introduced a law providing 16 percent reservation to them, but the Supreme Court objected to it. So, the forthcoming battle will have to be fought in Delhi.”
Recently, Congress leader Ashok Chavan, who heads the state government’s sub committee on Maratha reservation said that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray is likely to write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind on this issue. Chavan has said that the chief minister will ask the Centre to provide quota to the community if the state does not have the right to do so.
As the state government’s announcement on the EWS quota and the ensuing blame game indicate, political parties in Maharashtra can ill afford to ignore the ire of the Marathas. Whether the Maha Vikas Aghadi’s moves manage to undo the effect of the Supreme Court judgment remains to be seen.
With inputs from PTI
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