In 2018, the Devendra Fadnavis-led government in Maharashtra had given reservation to the Maratha community in jobs and higher education; however, the Maharashtra government’s decision on quota was quashed by the Supreme Court in May 2021. A 5-judge bench of the Supreme Court in May 2021 said that the Maratha community was not socially and educationally backward. It also refused a review petition in April 2023, declaring that the law that granted quotas was unconstitutional. Now, Devendra Fadnavis is Deputy CM and is successfully running the coalition government. The opposition is lashing out at Fadnavis for the lathicharge and teargas firing on protestors. Whereas the officers of higher rank take such decisions to control the mob violence.
Violence broke out on Friday after protesters clashed with the police and allegedly pelted stones at them, leading to lathicharge and the use of tear gas. Around 20 protesters and 37 police officers were injured during the clash. Over the last few days, hundreds of protesters, led by Manoj Jarange, a local Maratha leader, have been on a hunger strike, demanding a reservation. At least seven FIRs have so far been registered by the police against the protesters on charges such as assault on policemen, rioting, and damage to public and private property. Soon after the clashes, opposition leaders reached Jalna and started attacking Devendra by calling him a brahman leader. The venomous WhatsApp messages were made to create anger against this leader in the name of his cast. Without getting bothered by the attacks, Devendra took control of the present situation.
In the meantime, Maharashtra Chief Minister Shinde told the protesters that they are committed to providing reservation to the Maratha community in education and government jobs. Shinde also said that there was no misunderstanding between him and the two deputy chief ministers in the state and that all of them were working as a good team. Until the Maratha community gets reservation, the government schemes that are already in place will continue, and deserving people from the Maratha community will benefit from them.
In 1997, Maratha Sangh and Maratha Seva Sangh organized the first major Maratha agitation for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. The protestors said that the Marathas were not upper caste but essentially Kunbis (members of the agrarian community). After a prolonged struggle, the Maharashtra legislature passed a bill proposing a 16% reservation in education and government jobs for the Maratha community. The bill declared Marathas a socially and educationally backward class by the government.
The real Marathas or Marathas constituted 5 percent in Marathwada, 7 percent in Western Maharashtra, North Maharashtra, and Konkan, and 0.13 percent in Vidarbha of the state’s Marathi speakers as per the 1901 census. There was a movement in the 1920s when some agrarian groups who tilled the land sub-let to them by the Maratha Landowners were mobilized into the Maratha identity by the Maratha politicians for Vote Bank. Which makes the Marathas of today a cluster of castes (of somewhat unrelated castes of different social and economic standings). Most of this neo-Maratha agrarian population got the land they tilled registered on their names as per the land ceiling act (famously called the Kula Kayada in Marathi), thus achieving their total Maratha-status.
This was unfortunate because the agrarian groups that deserved reservation long ago were ignored as they had taken up the new Maratha identity. But now, with the division of land (which they had gotten due to Kula Kayada), these groups seek reservation, for which they are even ready to revert back to their original caste identity. The Maratha Proper caste, on the other hand, is relatively well off and hasn’t shown much interest in the reservation movement. Asking for reservations can be a constitutional right, but using Shivaji Maharaj’s name and Maratha identity for that is utterly unacceptable. The Maratha reservation is a hard sell, both legally and politically. Article 15 (4) reads: Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
article 15 (5) reads: Nothing in this article or in sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of article 19 shall prevent the State from making any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes in so far as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions, including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of article 30.] Article 16 (4) reads: Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favor of any backward class of citizens that, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.
From the above reading, it should be clear that currently, the constitutional provision of reservation is only for (i) any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens (Art. 15 for access to educational institutions and advancement in other areas). (ii) any backward class of citizens that, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State. The problem is that it’s difficult to establish that Marathas are socially and educationally backward. In 2003–2004, the National Commission for Backward Classes rejected the demand for including the Maratha community in the Other Backward Class (OBC) category. The Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission held in 2008 that “Marathas are both economically and politically a forward caste. They never faced social stigma to invite backward-class status.”
So, weighing these reports, no reservation can be given to marathas in educational institutions (art. 15), and similarly, marathas are adequately represented in the services under the state; therefore, no reservation can follow in matters of public employment (art. 16). The only solution is amendments to articles or new data to check the real deprived ratio.