The Maratha question set to come to a headFeb 12th, 2009 | By editor | Category: Opinion, Viewing News
It’s a case of having the cake and eating it too. Marathas, who constitute the de facto ruling class in Maharashtra that has produced the most number of Chief Ministers of the State, have stepped up their demand to be classified as an Other Backward Class (OBC).They are demanding a separate reservation of 25 per cent in education and employment too.
Leaders of the current agitation, including Vinayak Mete, have repeatedly drawn attention to the unequal distribution of wealth among members of the community and the need for reservations. A coalition of Maratha organisations in the State which held a large rally in Mumbai recently has threatened all manner of violence if the demands are not met by February 16.Implicit in the demand to be included as an OBC is the fact that Marathas will be entitled to 27 per cent reservation in local bodies, right up to the municipal corporation level in Maharashtra. After the 73rd and 74th Constitution amendments, Maharashtra amended the relevant Acts in 1994, 1997, and 2001 so that OBCs are entitled to a 27 per cent reservation in village panchayats, panchayat samitis, zilla parishads, municipal councils, nagar panchayats and municipal corporations. Clearly, then, more than economics it is politics and political representation that is the crux of the demand.
Mr. Mete admits they are aspiring for that 27 per cent reservation in politics. With the help of reservation, the community is eyeing a greater level of dominance in the political arena by muscling out the existing OBCs in terms of sharing the pie. While there is no official estimate, Marathas form a sizeable section, about 30 per cent, of the State’s population. In a move to appease them, the government has glossed over the recommendations of the 22nd report of the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission headed by a retired Judge, R.M. Bapat. The report, submitted in July 2008, rejected the classification of Marathas as an OBC on the grounds of social justice — by four votes to two. A Cabinet sub-committee has now referred the matter to the successor Commission headed by another retired Judge, B.P. Saraf. Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has clarified that the Saraf Commission, which has a three-year term, will specifically re-examine the question of reservation for Marathas in educational, financial and employment terms. He said the existing OBC reservation would not be disturbed. Maharashtra already has 52 per cent reservation, which includes 2 per cent for special backward classes.
The Bapat Commission report has been “referred back;” it was not accepted or rejected, Mr. Chavan said. Official sources said the report was “under consideration.” However, legally, if the government rejects such a report it has to give in writing reasons for such rejection. Another issue is that referring the matter to an equivalent body can be legally challenged as the next Commission is not exactly an appellate authority. Moreover, the three members of the Bapat Commission who are in favour of Marathas being given OBC status continue in the Saraf Commission. Of the 255 representations made before the Bapat Commission, only five or six opposed the inclusion of Marathas as OBCs. A note of dissent was filed by Dr. S.G. Devgaonkar and Professor C.B. Deshpande, who are part of the Commission and who did a house-to-house survey of Marathas and saw their plight. They along with Anuradha Bhoite, backed the demand for Marathas to be included as an OBC and the resolution was carried. Dr. Bhoite was not present to vote on the resolution, but she had surveyed Maratha families and found them to be very poor and backward.
Mr. Bapat’s report has been slammed by the Maratha lobby as a shoddy job. But a copy of the report, which is with The Hindu, tells another story. The State was divided into three sections for the purpose of the study and members of the committee travelled to various areas to personally assess the socio-economic plight of the Marathas. Barring a few areas, it was found that Marathas were on top. Mr. Gaikwad and Professor Gosavi told The Hindu that as far as the social situation is concerned, they found Marathas were the rulers and not at all backward. They pointed out that in each community there will be a section which is poor: that does not make the entire community backward. In fact, Mr. Gaikwad is all for reservation for Marathas based on economic criteria but he feels they certainly cannot be classified as OBCs. Even the Supreme Court has accepted that the principle underlying reservation for OBCs is their social and educational backwardness.
Dr. Raosaheb Kasbe, briefly a part of the Bapat Commission, points out that a distinction must be made between classes that face a social stigma and those that do not, like Marathas. They can only be given reservation on economic grounds. But for that purpose a separate commission will have to be set up. Maratha leaders say that Kunbis, an agrarian community, have been given OBC status. Since Kunbis are Marathas, any reservations that are applicable to Marathas will extend to them. However, Professor Goswami says the Khatri Commission in Maharashtra and the Bombay High Court and its Nagpur and Aurangabad benches have not agreed that Marathas and Kunbis are the same. The Bombay High Court ruled in October 2003 in Jagannath Hole’s case that to accept Marathas as belonging to the Kunbi community would result in “nothing short of a social absurdity.” The Supreme Court upheld this order in April 2005.Data compiled by Dr. Suhas Palshikar of the University of Pune in his book on Maharashtra politics (Politics of Maharashtra: Local Context of the Political Process, Editors: Suhas Palshikar and Nitin Birmal, Pratima Prakashan, 2007) endorses the fact that far from being a backward community, Marathas have ruled the roost in the State for decades and have a stranglehold on the political scene. From 1962 to 2004, of the total of 2,430 MLAs, 1,336 were Maratha, that is, 55 per cent.
Nearly 54 per cent of the educational institutions in the State are controlled by them. Of 105 sugar factories, 86 are headed by Marathas, while 23 district cooperative banks have Marathas as chairpersons. Marathas dominate the universities in the State, with 60 to 75 per cent presence in the management. About 71.4 per cent of the cooperative institutions are under the control of this community. In Maharashtra, 75 to 90 per cent of the land is owned by the community. In addition, all the milk cooperatives and cotton mills are either owned or controlled by them. In 54 of the 288 Assembly constituencies, only Marathas have ever been elected — even without any reservations. Under directions from the Supreme Court in 1992, Maharashtra set up a Backward Class Commission in 1993.In five instances in the past, the Commission has rejected the demand from sub-castes of Marathas to be included as OBCs. Apart from the Bapat Commission, an earlier State Backward Class Commission was not in favour of Marathas as a community being included in the OBC category. The Mandal Commission in 1980called Marathas a forward caste. The National Commission for Backward Classes in 2003-2004 rejected the inclusion of politically dominant castes like Marathas in the OBC list. There have been suggestions that Marathas should focus on the poor in their community and demand special reservation for them. This could be a via media for a government that may not be inclined to displease Marathas, especially with the general elections coming up. However, the question is whether the government can make provision only for weaker sections of a single community.
There are 346 communities classified as OBCs in the State. Once Marathas are categorised as an OBC, they will automatically be entitled to political reservation. This has raised the hackles of OBCs in the current list who are on the warpath and who constitute a significant percentage of the State’s population. Politically and legally the State is in for an upheaval — which can have a major impact in the coming election.