Maharashtra's OBCs and Dalits are rallying behind the BJP-led governments in the state and centre hoping that it will turn down Maratha demands for reservations
Mumbai: The unprecedented mobilization of the Maratha caste in Maharashtra is causing another kind of consolidation the activists of the community may not have anticipated.
Maharashtra’s other backward classes (OBCs) and Dalits are rallying behind the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led administrations—both in the state and the centre— hoping that they will turn down two of the Maratha demands: amendments to the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and reservation for Marathas.
Taking a leaf from Maratha tactics, OBC organizations have started organizing silent marches. OBC organizations said their marches do not seek to counter the Maratha mobilization. But both OBCs and Dalits—who account for approximately 55% to 60% of the state’s population—are making overtures to the BJP-led government in the state as well as the centre hoping the Maratha demands will not be accepted.
A prominent Dalit leader from Maharashtra, who did now wish to be named, said Dalits and OBCs were investing a lot of hope in both BJP governments to “safeguard their interests and give the communities a sense of assurance" in the backdrop of the Maratha unrest which he said had “anti-Dalit overtones".
The marches started with the rape and killing of a Maratha teenager allegedly by Dalit men in July.
Last Monday, 10 OBC organizations came together for a silent march in Nashik to push for their main demand—exclusion of Marathas from the OBC category. Similar marches are also being organized by OBCs in the Vidarbha region. And 6 October saw a Dalit silent march in Baramati, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar’s hometown, to oppose Maratha efforts to “dilute" the Atrocities Act and demand that the Act be made even stronger. Pawar has backed Maratha calls for reforms in the Act to stop its alleged misuse.
OBC activist Shrawan Deore, one of the movers behind the OBC march in Nashik, said OBCs were not against Marathas getting reservation in educational institutions and government jobs. All they want is that Marathas should be treated as an independent category, rather than OBCs.
“Government should declare Marathas as a special backward category and give them reservation. We have no problem with that. But Marathas must not be included in the OBC category because that would eat into our quota," said Deore.
In Maharashtra, the quotas for OBCs, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and special backward classes make up 52% of the total seats in government-run and aided educational institutions and jobs under a special State Reservation Act of 2001.
OBCs have been given 19% quota in the state, while SCs, STs, and special backward classes have 13%, 7%, and 2%, respectively. In September 2014, the then Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra issued an ordinance—just ahead of the assembly polls— granting 16% reservation to Marathas and 5% to Muslims. But in November 2014, the Bombay high court rejected reservation for Marathas though it allowed educational quotas for Muslims. The HC held that the Supreme Court had capped reservations at 50% and Maharashtra, with the ordinance for Maratha and Muslim quotas, had taken it to 73%.
In December 2014, the BJP-Shiv Sena government passed a law giving reservation to Marathas but withholding the Muslim quota decision. In April 2015, the HC again stayed the Maratha reservation holding that Marathas were not a backward caste. The HC is still hearing a bunch of petitions filed in this case.
Dalits had shown “remarkable patience" so far, said Suresh Mane, president of the Bahujan Republican Socialist Party, adding Maratha mobilization was leading to OBCs and Dalits getting organized as well.