he systems of reservation in India are a form of positive discrimination. It follows from the concept of equality of opportunity as enshrined in the Constitution of India. Reservation is the result of laws, guidelines, and administrative action by the different levels of governments in India, and includes reserved or exclusive access to seats in the different legislatures, to government jobs and to enrolment in higher educational institutions. There are some differences between how it is enabled by the central Union Government and by individual States and Union Territories. The basis of reservation is the perceived existence of some sort of historical or contemporary social and educational disadvantage. The target groups are identified based on criteria such as gender, caste, tribe, and linguistic minority status. It is the process of facilitating a person in education, scholarship, jobs, and in the promotion who has category certificates. Reservation is a form of quota-based affirmative action. It is governed by the Constitutional laws, statutory laws, and local rules and regulations. Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC), and in some states Backward Classes among Muslims under a category called BC(M), are the primary beneficiaries of the reservation policies under the Constitution – with the object of ensuring a level playing field.
In 2006, the Mumbai High Court refused to apply the SC/ST Atrocities Act to the public lynching of the wife and children of Bhaiyalal Bhotmange, a Dalit farmer in the village of Khairlanji in Maharashtra’s Bhandara district. Their attackers were Kunbis, a sub-caste of the Marathas. The judges ruled it was a case of revenge killing, not a caste-based attack. The accused were sentenced to 25 years in prison. The public prosecutor, in this case, was also Ujjwal Nikam while the Chief Minister of the State at that time was Vilasrao Deshmukh, a Maratha. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has announced the appointment of Ujjwal Nikam as the public prosecutor in the murder of the Maratha teen and promised that the suspects will be awarded death penalty. In the context of the state’s history, Marathas have always been equated with the warrior caste Kshatriya, and they have dominated the state politics. Of Maharashtra’s 18 Chief Ministers since it became a state in 1960, 10 have been Marathas, including first CM Yashwantrao Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan. Over nearly that entire period, more than half of all MLAs the state has elected hail from that community.
A former chairman of the Maharashtra Planning Board once told a leading news daily, “Almost 50 to 55 per cent of educational institutions — undergraduate and postgraduate, medical and engineering — across the state are controlled by the leaders who represent the Maratha community. Of 200-odd sugar factories, the base of the state economy, 168 are controlled by Marathas. Of district cooperative banks, 70 per cent are controlled by Marathas as directors, chairman or panel members. Cleared by the Congress-NCP government, it entails a 16 per cent reservation to the Marathas as an ‘Economically and Educationally Backward Community’, a category newly introduced. Into this category, the government added the Muslims, giving them 5 per cent reservation. In 1994, then chief minister Sharad Pawar consented to the renaming of Marathwada University after B R Ambedkar and lost the election in 1995. In the last 10 years, many poor Maratha farmers have drifted towards the Shiv Sena. The Congress-NCP had been striving to grant Marathas OBC status since 2009, and settled for the new category. Of the 288 Assembly seats, Marathas can potentially swing the outcome in nearly 200. Marathas have dominated the state politics of Maharashtra since its inception in 1960. Since then, Maharashtra has witnessed the heavy presence of Maratha ministers or officials in the Maharashtra state government, local municipal commissions, and panchayats, although Marathas comprise only around 25 per cent of the state population.
The BJP had accused the Maratha leaders in the Congress and Pawar’s party of orchestrating these protests to derail its government’s investigation into several scams in the cooperative and irrigation sector during their rule – among those being probed are Pawar’s powerful nephew Ajit Pawar, who was the state’s Irrigation Minister for 10 years. But many see this mobilisation as an attempt by the Maratha politicians across parties to stay relevant, at a time when other caste groups are asserting themselves in very diverse ways – they cite the rise of a highly educated class among Dalits, or the Brahmin resurgence in the BJP, apart from Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Union Ministers Nitin Gadkari and Prakash Javadekar, both senior leaders from Maharashtra, are also Brahmins. Falling desperately short of visionaries, the Maratha leaders have come across as just regional satraps more interested in making money for themselves and their parties through capitation or a set fee per student in colleges built by them, presiding over – even facilitating – the decline of sugar cooperatives and then buying them in sweetheart deals, and relaunching them as private sugar-processing factories that make good money.
The community that has contributed more than half the state’s lawmakers (across parties), many of whom amassed great personal wealth and power, but failed to create jobs or promote education. An advertisement by the Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC) for filling five vacancies of porters received over 2,500 applications. The required qualification was Class IV pass, but those competing for the job included 250 postgraduates and nearly 1,000 graduates. Amongst them were young Maratha boys convinced that the reservation policy which excludes them is responsible for their unemployment. The varna of the Maratha is a contested issue, with arguments for their being of the Kshatriya (warrior) varna, and others for their being of Shudra origins. This issue was the subject of antagonism between the Brahmins and Marathas, dating back to the time of Shivaji, but by the late 19th century moderate Brahmins were keen to ally with the influential Marathas of Mumbai in the interests of Indian independence from Britain. These Brahmins supported the Maratha claim to Kshatriya status, but their success in this political alliance was sporadic and fell apart entirely following independence in 1947. Maharashtra government has provided 16 per cent reservation to the Marathas, seen by many as a dominant one, but their caste at large is deprived of development and progress. Moreover, this reservation became a tool to politics that human need.
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