Has the govt managed to dilute the demand for Maratha quota?
Mumbai: It will be a long time—if at all it stands the legal test—before the Maratha demand for quota in government jobs and education is fulfilled despite claims by organizers of a Maratha march last week, according to social commentators, activists, politicians and at least one member of the Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes.
The peaceful conclusion of the massive march in Mumbai last week led to widespread sentiment that the Devendra Fadnavis government has managed to dilute the demand for quota by offering a number of educational and social sops to the Maratha community.
“When the Maratha march began last year, the demand for quota had lot of traction. It is still a very legitimate and emotive demand but it does not have the same momentum now. The government has been able to shift the focus to the legal aspects of the demand and even members of the community now acknowledge that it is going to be a long legal haul,” said a member of the State Commission for the Backward Classes who did not want to be identified.
The Maharashtra government has referred the matter of Maratha quotas to the commission which is supposed to make a strong case for it that stands the legal scrutiny.
Veteran social activist Baba Adhav, a Maratha who since the 1970s has been arguing for internal social reforms in the Maratha community and gender justice, said the demand for Maratha quota did not have “much strength behind it”.
“Maratha youths are demanding reservation because there are deep economic and social disparities and because agriculture has stopped being remunerative,” he said.
A senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) politician, who is a Maratha himself, said reservation for the Marathas was a “legal labyrinth”.
“At the political level, we will continue to demand it. But it is very difficult to make a strong legal case for Maratha reservation,” said the NCP leader.
He said the sops announced by the Fadnavis government—like waiver of fees for the Maratha students for admission to 605 courses, skill training, and hostels for Maratha students—would mellow down the demand for quota.
“Why are they (Marathas) demanding quota? Because education and accommodation in cities for education has become unaffordable. Free education in more than 600 courses would accommodate large number of Maratha students,” the NCP politician said. Last week, the Fadnavis government announced these sops for Maratha students similar to the concessions given to the OBC students (Other Backward Classes). These sops are likely to cost around Rs800 crore to the state government.
In 2014, the Bombay high court struck down an ordinance issued by the then Congress-NCP government that gave 16% quota to the Marathas. In December that year, the Fadnavis government passed an Act to reinstate the Maratha quota but in April 2015 the Bombay high court stayed even that Act. In May this year, the state government told the court that it would refer the matter to the commission.