Mumbai: The Maharashtra government on Wednesday approved a proposal to reserve 16% of government jobs and seats in educational institutions for Marathas and 5% for Muslims.

The decision is seen as an attempt by the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance ahead of state assembly elections due in October-November. The coalition managed to win only six out of 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state in the 2014 general elections.

“The Maratha community and Muslims have been given reservation without affecting existing reservation for the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes (OBCs)," chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said after a cabinet meeting.

Analysts were divided on the impact the decision will have on the fortunes of the ruling coalition which is seeking a fourth term. Opposition parties and supporters of Maratha reservation are also not sure whether the government’s decision will stand legal scrutiny.

In 1992, the Supreme Court’s Constitution bench had set a ceiling of 50% on all types of reservation, while ruling that the Mandal commission’s recommendation giving reservations to OBCs was constitutionally valid.

NCP president Sharad Pawar, while speaking at the party’s foundation day function on 11 June, had virtually directed the state government to decide on the reservation issue at the earliest.

Marathas, who dominate state politics, form 30-35% of the population in Maharashtra. Out of 16 chief ministers of Maharashtra, 10 were from the community. At present, out of the 31 ministers in the state cabinet, 14 are Marathas, including Chavan and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar.

In the Lok Sabha elections, out of 11 seats in the western Maharashtra, Congress-NCP managed to win only four. In this region, the population of Marathas is close to 50% and traditionally, this area has remained a bastion of Congress-NCP.

Similarly, Muslims, who were disillusioned with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, stayed away from polling booths, reflecting in the lower turnout in many Muslim-dominated areas of Mumbai. Partially due to this, Congress-NCP lost all six seats in Mumbai it had won in 2009.

“People don’t vote for what you promise to do, but vote for or against what you have done and Congress-NCP alliance hardly have anything to show on governance," said Deepak Pawar, head of department of political science department at K.J. Somaiya college. “It is a last-ditch attempt by the Congress-NCP leadership to win over Marathas, who are victims of feudal politics practiced by Congress-NCP’s Maratha leadership in the last six decades."

“We are in support of the reservation to Maratha community, but we have doubts whether government’s decision will stand legal scrutiny. We had suggested various ways to government which would have allowed the government to overcome the legal hurdles," said Vinod Tawade, leader of the opposition in the state legislative council. “However, it seems, the government has not taken our suggestions while making decision."

“We oppose the state government’s decision to grant 5% reservation to Muslims as the Constitution is completely against religion-based reservations," Tawade said. “And various court judgements on this issue have also underlined this fact."

“The announcement is done with intention of getting Muslim votes in forthcoming assembly elections. And I have my doubts about it standing the legal scrutiny," Muslim scholar Abdulkadir Mukadam said. “But this decision will give opportunity to communal forces like Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena to vitiate the atmosphere against the minority community."

If the government wants to improve condition of Muslims, it can take up several measures, but all of them are long-term measures and won’t give votes in the short term; so, no government is interested in implementing them, Mukadam said.

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