Mumbai: Both the Houses of the Maharashtra legislature on Thursday unanimously passed a bill proposing 16% reservation for the Marathas in educational institutions and state government jobs. The bill was passed by voice vote without any discussion, and will now go to the governor before it is signed into a law.

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who has borne the wrath of the Maratha community since August 2016, tabled the bill in both Houses and thanked all political parties for extending unanimous support to redress “a long-standing social problem". In August, Fadnavis had promised to complete all legal procedures by November-end to grant the reservation—a promise he reiterated on 15 November, when the Maharashtra State Commission for the Backward Classes submitted its report favouring quotas for Marathis.

Eminent lawyer, constitutional expert, and former advocate general of Maharashtra Shreehari Aney said the bill will face legal challenges, adding however that he was personally in favour of Maratha quota, as a large number of the community were indeed socially and economically backward.

“The bill would face challenges, primarily in the context of the Supreme Court-ordered ceiling of 50% on quotas that a government could provide."

Aney added that the current bill was a much-more “mature" attempt to provide quota as compared to the “rudimentary" effort of the previous government.

In September 2014, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-led state government had brought in an ordinance for Maratha quota, but it failed the legal test. Marathas account for 32-35% of Maharashtra’s population and predominantly supported the Congress-NCP before the Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena made inroads into this largely agrarian community.

While Fadnavis took a non-partisan position, BJP and Shiv Sena workers took pot-shots at the Congress-NCP regime for failing to provide a legally sustainable Maratha quota.

Even before the bill was tabled, BJP and Sena legislators, all wearing saffron headgear, started raising slogans outside the House and hailing their government’s “revolutionary step". For once, the BJP and Shiv Sena, which have for the better period since 2014 been warring allies, closed the ranks and demonstrated a rare camaraderie as Fadnavis joined Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s son Aaditya on the legislature premises to celebrate the passage of the bill.

Even before the bill was tabled, the BJP moved swiftly to claim political credit as it issued an advisory to its cadres and legislators asking them to start celebrations the moment the bill was passed. After it was passed, the BJP quickly deployed senior leader and minister Vinod Tawde, a Maratha himself, to lead the celebrations at its Mumbai headquarters where Tawde accused the Congress-NCP of giving quota just before the 2014 assembly elections reckoning that the Maratha community would en block vote for them.

“That did not happen because the Marathas are sensible. This BJP-Sena government has kept its word given to the Maratha community by providing a legally fool-proof quota unlike the previous government which used the community as a vote bank for decades but never really did anything to fulfil its just demands," Tawde said amidst loud roars by the BJP cadres.

Sensing the political significance of the occasion, the Congress-NCP leaders too reached out to the community. State Congress president Ashok Chavan termed the Bill as “victory" of the struggle waged by the Maratha community and 58 silent marches it held across the state between August 2016 and August 2018. NCP leader Ajit Pawar rushed to the Azad maidan near-by where Maratha community activists are on indefinite fast to demand quota and addressed them. Later, Uddhav Thackeray too visited the site after which the Maratha activists called off the fast.

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