Quota calculations

Published : Jul 09, 2014 12:30 IST

At a "Maratha Arakshan" rally in Mumbai in 2013.

At a "Maratha Arakshan" rally in Mumbai in 2013.

WITH the Assembly elections scheduled for later this year, the atmosphere in Maharashtra is ripe for political chicanery, and Maharashtra’s politicians are ready to play the game. With the announcement of reservation for Marathas, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine fired the first salvo in electoral politics.

On June 25, the Maharashtra government announced reservation for Marathas and Muslims in State government jobs and in admissions to educational institutions in Maharashtra. Marathas will get 16 per cent seats and Muslims 5 per cent.

The decision to grant a quota to Muslims was based on reports of the Sachar Committee, the Ranganath Mishra Commission and Maharashtra’s own Mahmoodur Rahman Committee, which had actually called for 8 per cent reservation. The government said the Marathas were socially and educationally backward in justification of its decision to extend reservation benefits to them under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category.

The pronouncement created an uproar. A public interest petition that challenged the decision in the Bombay High Court, filed by a former journalist, Ketan Tirodkar, said Marathas could not be called backward or deprived—they are a dominant community. The petition argued that 75 per cent of the land in the State was owned by Marathas. It also pointed to the community’s political clout and said that between 1962 and 2004, 55 per cent of the total MLAs were Marathas. Furthermore, it said Marathas controlled more than 72 per cent of the institutions in the cooperative sector. “All the academic dons such as D.Y. Patil, Patang Kadam, Kamalkishore Kadam, [and the] Pawars of Vidya Pratishthan have their educational empires spanning over thousands and thousands of acres of public land pocketed from the government under the guise of public interest.”

The petition pointed out that the present Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister were both Marathas, as were 99 per cent of the State’s Chief Ministers. Moreover, Marathas are not a caste but are part of a linguistic group.

Questioning how the State could suddenly increase its share of reservation from 52 to 73 per cent, the petition said the State Cabinet decision violated the Supreme Court ruling in “Indira Sawhney vs Union of India”.

Quoting from this judgment, the petitioner said: “Reservation being an extreme form of protective measure or affirmative action, it should be confined to a minority of seats. Even though the Constitution does not lay down any specific bar, but the constitutional philosophy being against proportional equality, the principle of balancing equality ordains reservation, of any manner, not to exceed 50 per cent.”

The petition said: “The State’s decision to brand the Maratha community socially and educationally backward is a fraud committed upon this country and its Constitution. The decision has defrauded the basic fabric of the Constitution.”

Protesting Marathas threw ink on the petitioner when he entered the court to pursue his plea that the court should abort the process of converting the Cabinet decision into a Government Resolution. The government, for its part, said it had taken legal opinion on the decision and that it would be able to convince the court.

The public opposition to the plan and the fact that the increase in the reservation limit in the State was itself a violation of the law showed that the State’s decision was not clearly thought through. But then, as one Mantralaya wit said: “It’s election time. Thinking doesn’t come into the picture.” Marathas constitute 32 per cent of the State’s population.

The final word should perhaps go to Justice Markandey Katju, Chairman of the Press Council of India.

He said: “This is nothing but crass, opportunistic vote-bank politics, particularly since State elections are approaching in Maharashtra.... Some politicians do not seem to care for the law of the land. Also, should meritorious general category people leave Maharashtra? Does the Maharashtra government think that merit is nothing, and all that is relevant is how to win the elections? I can only say that I am sorry for the future of Maharashtra.”

Lyla Bavadam

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