Poll-oriented sop

The Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra has resorted to an easy but questionable act of electoral politics by extending reservations to the Maratha community and Muslims in the state.

The 16 per cent reservation for the Marathas and 5 per cent for Muslims in educational institutions and jobs has been sought to be justified by the Prithviraj Chavan government on the ground that both sections of the population are socially and economically backward. But the real aim is to elicit the support of both in the state assembly elections which are only three months away. After the drubbing the Congress-NCP combine received in the Lok Sabha elections, securing only six of the 48 seats, its prospects in the assembly elections are quite dim. So, the government has played the reservation card as a last resort. 

The decision is bad on substantive, legal and other grounds. The Marathas are the major community in the state forming 32 per cent of the population. It is politically dominant and wields economic power. It cannot be considered backward class needing reservations, though there may be families which are backward, as in all communities. Most Muslims are poor and backward, but the Constitution envisages reservations only for communities and not for religions. The legal status of reservations on religious grounds is not yet settled. More importantly, the fresh quota giveaways will take overall reservations in the state to 73 per cent, leaving only 27 per cent for merit. This is much above the 50 per cent limit set by the Supreme Court for reservations. Some other states have also exceeded this limit. The Maharashtra government has said that it would face the legal challenge in courts, if it has to. This is perhaps because governments are usually interested more in being seen as ready to give away doles than in any benefit actually reaching the people. Cynicism is writ large on such an attitude.

Unfortunately, the Congress has not realised that the people are not taken in by made-up concerns and gestures of dubious value. The UPA government had announced reservations for the Jats, including them in the other backward classes list, before the Lok Sabha election. But the Congress lost heavily in the Jat-dominate seats. This has been the experience of other parties too. Reservations do not have the value they once had as a political tool. In fact, an exaggerated emphasis on them goes against natural justice and becomes counter-productive.

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