The government that is contemplating granting reservations to upper-caste Marathas, seems to have touched a raw nerve with other social/caste groups also raising similar demands.
While the govt has indicated that Muslims too might be given reservations before the assembly polls, communities like Dhangars, Lingayats, Wadars, Kolis and Matangs too are seeking quota benefits.
After its severe drubbing in Lok Sabha polls, the Cong-NCP govt is under immense pressure to ensure that these decisions come through before polls.
However, some of these demands are being opposed by other caste groups as well as sections within the beneficiaries. For instance, while tribal legislators across party lines have threatened to resign en masse if Dhangars and other 'non-tribals' are included in the ST category; OBC Muslim leaders are against they being granted quota on religious grounds, as this, they feel, will largely benefit upper-caste Ashraf Muslims.
Various classes among Muslims fall in categories like OBC, VJNT (vimukta jati and nomadic tribes), SC and ST. OBCs also resent granting Marathas reservation.
"Many communities are seeking downward mobility in the caste pyramid for more benefits. While those in the open category want to be included in OBC list, OBCs want themselves to be categorised as VJNTs, and those in VJNT want to be in ST list. This is almost competitive," said a veteran OBC activist. This amounts to turning on its head the Sanskritisation theory put forth by eminent sociologist MN Srinivas, where lower castes seek upward mobility.
The Dhangar (shepherd) community (VJNT), wants to be part of ST. "Dhangars and Dhangads are one," said community leader Mahadeo Jankar of Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (RSP). Dhangads (corrupt form of the community's name) were included in STs, he added. According to him, Dhangars would get more benefits if classified as STs instead of the present VJNT, and attacked NCP for not meeting their demand.
Dhangars, who are said to rank only next to Maratha-Kunbis, had significant share of votes in 89 of the 288 assembly segments and nine parliamentary constituencies in Maharashtra, Jankar said, lamenting that despite this they hadn't been able to get a single Dhangar elected as MP so far.
Writer and activist Sanjay Sonawani pointed out that many other states had included Dhangars in ST list. He, however, noted that politicians had created an impression that reservation was the panacea for social ills and backwardness.
Wadars (VJNT) and Kolis (special backward classes-SBC) also want to be in ST list. The Matang community has also demanded separate quota as benefits under the SC category are being appropriated by others.
The Shiva Akhil Bhartiya Veershaiva Yuvak Sanghatana led by Manohar Dhonde has demanded that various Veershaiva Lingayat communities be given quota benefits. Presently, only a miniscule number of 153 Lingayat castes have this benefit.
Dhonde said though they were covered largely in the SC, OBC, VJNT and SBC categories, Lingayats were not provided benefits unless they dropped the term 'Lingayat' from most caste names. For instance, Lingayat Sutars, Lingayat Guravs, Lingayat Phularis and Lingayat Kumbhars can get quotas only if they call themselves Sutars, Guravs, Phularis and Kumbhars, respectively, he added. The organisation has been seeking to be classified as minorities since 1999.
"This is related to identity politics. Reservation is seen as complementary for upward social mobility," said Surendra Jondhale, professor, department of civics and politics, University of Mumbai, adding that the reference point was the progress of Dalits in social, economic and educational sectors.