Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan's decision on quotas for the Marathas and Muslims is a shrewd move to bolster his position at a time when he is under attack from all corners. The demand for reservation for the two politically significant communities has been pending for long. But, Chavan chose Wednesday's meeting of his cabinet to push through the proposal. Maharashtra has had several Maratha chief ministers, but none of them could display the political will necessary to grant reservation to their community.
By conceding the demand of his community, Chavan has, in one stroke, added several inches to his stature among his biradari. And by giving a piece of the reservation cake to the Muslims also, he has sought to mollycoddle them in the run up to the assembly elections due to be held in October. The move to woo the Muslims is to be viewed in the context of the perception that the community voted against the Congress in the parliamentary polls.
Ever since the Congress performed miserably in the recent Lok Sabha elections (it bagged only two of the 48 seats), Chavan has been under attack from within his own party. Many of his critics like ex-CM Ashok Chavan and several cabinet ministers held him responsible for the drubbing. They said had Chavan been quick in taking decisions and had he established a good rapport with the party rank and file, the defeat would not have been so glaring.
They noted that the NCP, despite several of its ministers being embroiled in various scams, could secure four seats. Several Congress activists warned the Congress leadership that the party would suffer a repeat rout in the assembly polls, if Chavan was not shown the pink slip. Even as this campaign was going on, NCP president Sharad Pawar stepped up pressure on the Congress to remove Chavan since he had allegedly become a political liability. Pawar even went on record that the Congress has decided to change the leadership in Maharashtra and two other states where it was in power. The Congress' decision to ask former Union home minister and ex-CM Sushilkumar Shinde to cut short his foreign tour and rush back to India further added to the speculation about Chavan's continuance in office. Shinde even stated, for good measure, that he "was willing to shoulder any responsibility given" by the high command.
It is is in this background that Chavan has decided to grant reservation benefits to the Marathas and Muslims. Politically, he is in a relatively stronger situation than what he was on Wednesday. If he is removed now, then the Congress would be seen as a party which has shown the door to a man who who took a "historic" decision. It is a different matter that the CM's decision may be set aside by the courts since he has exceeded by as much as 13 per cent the 50 per cent cap on reservation decided by the Supreme Court. Also religion-based reservation is most likely be frowned upon by the courts.