From September 1 when the police force unleashed lathi-charge on Maratha protesters in Jalna district to Monday's all-party meeting called by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde on the issue of Maratha reservation, the recent chain of events triggered by the indefinite fast by Maratha leader Manoj Jarange Patil clearly points to the fact that the Maharashtra government is not just on the back-foot but is clearly looking for a saviour who could bail them out of the situation.
Why are the Marathas unhappy?
The Maratha community comprises almost 35 per cent of Maharashtra’s population. It is an agrarian community wherein few families and dynasties have enjoyed fruits of power and wealth while majority of the community members remained underprivileged. The Marathas are demanding reservation as Other Backward Classes (OBC).
The community has been demanding reservation in jobs and education since 1981 when Annasaheb Patil, a prominent of leader of Mathadi labourers launched the first agitation to demand for reservation.
Successive governments since them, most of whom were headed by Maratha chief ministers, have dragged their feet on the issue. It was only in 2014 that Congress-NCP government led by Prithviraj Chavan announced 16 per cent quota for Marathas on the basis of recommendations from Narayan Rane committee. The next government led by BJP's Devendra Fadnavis, following huge protest rallies by Marathas, gave 16 per cent reservation to the community. The Bombay High Court brought it down to 13 per cent in jobs and 12 per cent in education. However, the apex court in 2021 quashed the quota for Marathas stating that the reservation in the state can not cross the limit of 50 per cent.
Shinde, Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar have blamed former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray for the state’s failure to argue the case in the Supreme Court when the reservation was quashed. The trio may blame Uddhav but that does not help them solve the current situation.
The situation at present began becoming tense after Jarange Patil, a Maratha community leader launched an indefinite fast to demand OBC status for Marathas. It was at the site of this fast that police lathi-charged Maratha protesters earlier this month, injuring more than 50 activists. The police action clearly backfired and the SP of Jalna district has been sent on leave since then. Two DySPs have been transferred out of the district. Deputy Chief Minister Fadnavis, who is also the Home minister, personally tendered apology to the protesters and took the blame for lathi-charge.
Following this, CM Shinde announced that the Marathas in Marathwada (central Maharashtra) region will get OBC status as Kunbis (Kunbi is a Maratha sub caste that is classified as OBCs) if they can prove that their families were classified as Kunbis in the pre-independence Nizam-era rule.
The government thought this will diffuse the situation but Jarange Patil refuse to budge. He has announced that all Marathas must get Kunbi status whether they have Nizam-era proof or not. He has also continued his fast and stopped drinking water now.
Hence, for they first time since he took over as CM, Shinde called an all-party meeting to discuss the issue and find solutions after carefully understanding the opposition's viewpoint on this issue.
How have OBCs reacted?
OBCs in Maharashtra are clearly not happy with Marathas demanding OBC status. They do not have a problem if Marathas get reservation but OBC organisations are firm that this reservation should not be from the OBC quota. Even some Kunbi organisations are opposed to giving Kunbi status to Marathas. Baban Tayade, one of the leading office bearers of OBC Mahasangh, an umbrella body of OBC groups, has said that if Marathas want reservation the government should give it from open category without touching any quotas.
Senior politician and NCP founder Sharad Pawar has said that the solution to the current problem can be found only if the overall quota limit is raised above 50 per cent. He has demanded that the issue be raised in the special session of parliament that is schedule to begin on September 18.