The Congress-NCP-led state government may be walking the tightrope on its plans to grant reservations to the Marathas before the Lok Sabha polls.
Congress leaders admit that including Marathas, who form the dominant community in the state, in the OBC category may antagonise the backward classes, who are estimated at around half of Maharashtra’s population.
OBCs fear that including the numerically stronger Marathas, who account for a majority of CMs and elected representatives and control power centres, in this category will reduce their share of affirmative action.
Even as the Congress and NCP are locked in a struggle to claim credit for the likely move, which they hope will help them trump anti-incumbency in the Lok Sabha and assembly polls, politicians feel this could set off more demands for quotas from social and caste groups.
The Maratha-Kunbis are estimated at around 31.5% of Maharashtra’s population (based on the 1931 caste census) and Kunbis (agriculturists), who are present in large numbers in Vidarbha and Konkan, are already included in the OBC category.
An OBC activist said it was likely that Marathas could be given sub-quotas in the OBC category as quotas were based either on grounds of caste or backwardness. The 349 castes in the OBC category get 19% reservations, followed by 11% for the 51 VJNT castes and 2% for 11 castes included in the Special Backward Class category.
“The OBCs are being consolidated as voters because of a common class consciousness. Hence, the state government is walking a political minefield — if reservations are granted to Marathas as OBCs, the backward classes will be angry and if this is not done, Marathas will be furious,” the activist added, pointing to how the ruling parties were said to have encouraged hardline Maratha organisations.
Though Maratha leaders claim they can be included in the OBCs and can get benefits in education and jobs without political reservations, OBC activists say there is no precedent in the country of a community included in the backward list not being eligible for political reservations.
NCP MLC Vinayak Mete, who is among those leading the quota agitation, said OBC leaders and not the masses were opposed to Marathas being given quotas. “The problem is this may happen on the eve of the Lok Sabha polls,” said a Congress leader, admitting that the state could alienate either the Marathas or the OBCs with the decision it takes.
Surendra Jondhale, professor, department of civics and politics, University of Mumbai, said already a large numbers of Marathas were voting for the Congress-NCP, with the latter being looked at as a Maratha-dominated party. “This (reservations) is playing it to the gallery, a populist measure,” he added.
The question now is this: the NCP and Congress have literally ridden the tiger but can they dismount it?