Mumbai: Over 1,200 pieces of evidence meticulously culled from government and private archives and collections. Exclusive and unpublished data from the caste census. A battery of eminent lawyers led by Harish Salve who has agreed to argue the case free-of-cost.

This is how the Maharashtra government is building up its legal case to establish before the Bombay high court that an overwhelming majority of Marathas are socially and economically backward and, hence, deserving of quotas in jobs and education.

Maharashtra education minister Vinod Tawde, one of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) strong Maratha leaders and head of state government-appointed all-party action group on Maratha reservation, says the government will make “a solid, substantial, and legally fool-proof case" before the high court.

“We are making every effort within our reach to prove to the court that a large section of the Maratha community has been socially and economically backward for centuries. The first challenge is to get this fact legally acknowledged so that we can proceed to the next big step of providing reservation," Tawde says.

The minister confirmed Salve had agreed to appear for the state pro bono.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled on 13 October when the state government is likely to file an affidavit in support of 16% quota for the Marathas in government-run and aided educational institutions and government jobs.

Tawde says the affidavit will be supported by pieces of evidence taken from the department of government gazetteer in Kolhapur, which was the seat of power of Maratha icon Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, as well as archives, inscriptions, historical references, caste census data, and references provided by Maratha social organizations. More than 1,200 pieces of evidence have been collected, out of which 70 are planned to be presented before the court.

“Compare this with the kind of shoddy work the previous Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) did when it presented the case for Maratha quota to the high court. Since little academic and historical evidence was furnished, the court naturally refused to uphold the argument that a majority of the Maratha caste people were socially and economically backward," said another BJP minister, who is part of this all-party action group and who did not want to be named.

In November 2014, the Bombay high court struck down an ordinance hurriedly issued by the previous Congress-NCP government in September 2014 to provide Maratha reservation, pointing out that no evidence and information was provided to substantiate the claim that Marathas were socially and economically backward and, thus, deserved quotas. In a political response to the legal challenge, the current BJP-led coalition government in December 2014 passed a law to provide Maratha quota.

“This law was effectively an effort to convert the Congress-NCP government’s ordinance into an Act and it was done mainly for political purposes. But in its desperation to be politically correct, it did not have time to address the legal challenge posed by the high court. Naturally, this law was also challenged and stayed by the court because it was just a rehash of the ordinance," said an official of Maharashtra’s law and judiciary department requesting anonymity. This official said since April 2015 when the HC stayed the Act, the challenge for the BJP-led government has been to build the legal case. “That is when we searched for historical references, records, inscriptions, archives and personal collection of historical documents maintained by individuals and organizations," the official said.

Tawde said the state has also requested the centre to release relevant data from the caste census to arm its case with clinching statistical information.

“Since the caste census is not yet a public document, we have made a special request to release statistical information about the Maratha caste people which could be used as supportive evidence," Tawde said.

The state, he added, was also studying the measures taken by Haryana when it built up the legal case for Jat reservation. The Haryana government had accessed similar data recorded in the caste census and presented statistical information before the court, the minister said.

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