Explained: As Fresh Agitation Threatens To Erupt Over Maratha Reservation, Here's All You Need To Know About The Issue

Explained: As Fresh Agitation Threatens To Erupt Over Maratha Reservation, Here's All You Need To Know About The IssueProtests demanding Maratha reservations. (Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The issue of Maratha reservation in Maharashtra is again threatening to blow up after the Supreme Court ordered a stay on the Maratha Quota Law which was passed by the state assembly in 2018.

As a result, the Maratha quota will not be applicable for the appointments and admissions made in the year 2020-21. The post-graduate admissions which have already been made using the quota will still stand.

Under this law, the Maratha community is eligible to avail 12 per cent reservation in Maharashtra's education courses and a 13 per cent quota in state government jobs.

Reservation In Maharashtra And The Maratha Quota Impact

Currently the state of Maharashtra has a total of 52 per cent reservation which breaks up into:

  • 13 per cent - Scheduled Castes

  • 7 per cent - Scheduled Tribes

  • 19 per cent - Other Backward Classes

  • 2 per cent - Special Backward Class

  • 3 per cent Vimukti Jati

  • 2.5 per cent - Nomadic Tribe B

  • 3.5 per cent - Nomadic Tribe C-Dhangar

  • 2 per cent - Nomadic Tribe D-Vanjari

The total reservation in the state thus increases to 64-65 per cent after the application of the Maratha quota - a 15 percentage point increase on the 50 per cent limit on quotas imposed by the Supreme Court its 1992 judgement.

This reservation was upheld by the Bombay High Court in 2019 which noted that, "in exceptional circumstances and extraordinary situations, this limit can be crossed subject to availability of quantifiable and contemporaneous data reflecting backwardness, inadequacy of representation and without affecting the efficiency in administration".

The Bombay High Court though reduced the 16 per cent reservation figure to 12-13 per cent.

Supreme Court's Latest Action

The law was then challenged in the Supreme Court, which has now referred the matter to a constitution bench to examine whether the states can exceed the 50 per cent quota limit in applying reservations.

During the course of the hearings, lawyers appearing for various parties had argued that the state had used its constitutional powers arbitrarily for political gains.

On the other hand the apex court was told by the other side that 28 states in the country have already implemented reservations in excess of the 50 per cent limit.

The Threat Of Fresh Maratha Agitation

Following the Supreme Court stay, the Maratha community has threatened to intensify its agitation from today (14 September). The Maratha Kranti Morcha which is leading the agitation has alleged that, "...the state government failed to present its case effectively before the apex court".

As per reports violence has been reported from parts of the state with reports of buses being stoned in Nanded and Kolhapur.

In response to the threat of agitation, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has said that the state will again raise the matter before the Supreme Court. He has appealed against any form of protests and claimed that even former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is supporting the government over this issue.

The Maratha-Kunbi Identity

The composite Maratha-Kunbi caste constitutes about 32-33 per cent of Maharashtra's population. Various castes numbering over 350 are currently categorised as OBCs and account for 26 percent. The Dalits are estimated to account for around 11 per cent.

The Maratha-Kunbis are a highly stratified caste cluster, largely comprising the peasant cultivators but reaching up to feudal aristocrats and rulers. It must be noted at this point that reservations already exist for a section of the Maratha community. The Mandal Commission has included the Kunbi section in the OBC category. Kunbis are viewed as marginal land-tilling peasantry, in contrast to the aristocratic Marathas.

The inclusion of the Kunbis in the OBC category by the Mandal Commission had posed a considerable challenge to the Maratha vanguard, who found themselves in a dilemma as this had posed a threat to the carefully constructed omnibus caste identity.

This even led to the formation of an organisation called Maratha Mahasangh, which pleaded for the adoption of an economic criterion in granting reservations. The Mahasangh, under the leadership of Annasaheb Patil, had in fact agitated for the total revocation of caste-based reservation, including for Dalits, and advocating adopting an economic criterion.

Ironically, the current demand for reservation by the Maratha community rests on the contention that the Maratha and Kunbi communities are the same. This, prima facie, appears to be a false claim, as several commissions have repeatedly established that they are different groups; for instance, Maratha elite always opposed Kunbis' attempts to gain upward mobility and developed a strict internal hierarchy within. Also, the Marathas and the Kunbis don't intermarry.

Historically too, the Marathas differentiated themselves from the Kunbi peasants by virtue of their links with the ruling dynasties. It was only in the twentieth century that the Kunbis were subsumed into the larger Maratha identity to establish numerical preponderance and political supremacy.

Many Kunbis themselves are fiercely opposed to the idea of Maratha inclusion in the OBC list, pointing out that the political and economic stranglehold of the Marathas will ensure that they usurp all the reserved seats and posts. Many other OBC groups who are engaged in a constant struggle with the Marathas, like the Vanjaris, Telis, Leva Patils and Agris are also bitterly opposed to the idea of extending the OBC status to the Marathas.

1. Perceived loss of political power

In the 2014 assembly election, there were only 107 Marathas in the House of 288. To compare, the corresponding numbers of the Maratha contingent in the state assembly in 1962, 1990 and 2004 were 137, 140 and 135 respectively. Of the 18 chief ministers that have held office in the state, a majority of them have been from the Maratha community.

The steady decline in the Maratha hold over the state's political landscape has been accompanied by the rise of OBCs, thanks to the smart social engineering strategy by the Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), especially dating back to the days of Gopinath Munde.

The strength of the OBC MLAs, who are spread across various parties, has steadily risen from a paltry 22 in 1962 to 51 in 1990 and later, 48 in 2004 to 63 in 2014. The BJP has nurtured several leaders from the OBC community, including N S Farande, Anna Dange, Pandurang Fundkar, Gopinath Munde, Eknath Khadse, Sudhir Mungantiwar and Vinod Tawde.

2. The decline in agriculture

Rooted in origin as an agriculturist kshatriya (warrior) caste, the Maratha community continues to remain largely agrarian, with a significant section of it continuing to be small and marginal farmers.

Not very different from the larger trend in India, agriculture in Maharashtra, while accounting for a low share of state GDP, continues to employ a majority of the workforce. As noted political commentator Suhas Palshikar observes, "While agriculture in the state’s income has gone below 12 per cent, more than half of the workforce continues to be engaged in agriculture. And though Maharashtra’s economy has picked up since 2000-01 (the growth rate of GSDP reached 10 per cent in 2007-08, slumped to 3.4 per cent in 2008-09 and was estimated to pick up again to over 8 per cent the next year), growth in agriculture remained at an abysmal 1.8 per cent for 2009-10."

He also adds that "in addition to the indebtedness created by agrarian distress, the changing character of agriculture in the state has further aggravated the internal differentiation within the farming community of Maharashtra. The growing phenomenon of contract-based cropping, mainly for cash crops, has left out the peasantry growing coarse cereals. Simultaneously, agrarian distress also pushes members of peasant and farmer families into migrating to urban centres, mostly as an unskilled or semi-skilled workforce."

Also Read: Falling Over Backwards (Marathas & Reservation)

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