Quota for Marathas through, but Muslims will have to wait

Quota for Marathas through, but Muslims will have to wait

Giving reservation to the politically-influential Maratha community – a long pending demand in Maharashtra – has become a reality. Last week, at the winter session of Maharashtra legislature in Nagpur, both the Houses passed a bill to ensure reservation to the Marathas.

However, reservation for the Muslim community is still pending leading to a major political war between the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena regime headed by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and the Opposition parties, Congress and NCP.

The previous Prithviraj Chavan-led Democratic Front government had promulgated an ordinance to provide 16 per cent quota to Marathas and 5 per cent to Muslims in jobs and educational institutions.

Both these parties highlighted this as an achievement in the run up to the Vidhan Sabha elections. Before the government came out with an ordinance, a committee headed by former minister Narayan Rane had gone into the details and recommended for it.

With the additional 21 per cent quota for the Marathas and Muslims, reservation in government jobs and educational institutions in the state has gone up to 73 per cent, way beyond the 50 per cent limit set by the Supreme Court. In 2000, the Supreme Court had said in the original reservation case, “…the state would have to see that its reservation provision does not lead to excessiveness so as to breach the ceiling of 50 per cent…” The Bombay High Court, in a separate order, had noted: “52 per cent reservation in public employment has already been provided to backward classes as per the provisions of the State Reservation Act 2001.”

But the jolt came after the polls with the Bombay HC staying the decision of providing quota in jobs for Muslims and Marathas. However, it allowed 5 per cent reservations for Muslims in educational institutions.

The Maharashtra government moved the Supreme Court, which refused to interfere in the BHC order. The ordinance issued by the previous government lapses on January 5, next year. While the BJP-SS government was prompt to bring a bill for Maratha community while it is yet to do so for the Muslims.

There were some technical issues relating to reservation and the opinion of law and constitutional experts were sought. While the Muslim community has accused the government of being biased against it, the issue has resulted into a political war between the saffron alliance and the Opposition.

Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil of the Congress and his counterpart in Council, Dhananjay Munde of NCP accused the Fadnavis government of not considering reservation for Muslims. “The government is trying to create a rift between two communities,” said Vikhe-Patil.

Some Congress-NCP leaders point out that the government is being run from Nagpur – an indirect reference to RSS, which is headquartered there. “The government is following the agenda of RSS,” former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar of the NCP said.

Fadnavis, however, had accused the opposition of playing politics over the issue and asserted that legal opinion has been sought. “We fail to understand why the government has not thought of bringing two bills – one for Marathas and another for Muslims together,” asked former minority affairs minister Naseem Khan.

The Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has demanded that both the Marathas and Muslims should get the benefit of reservation.

According to them, reservation to the Muslims must be based on the findings of various reports, including the Justice Sachar Committee, Ranganath Misra Committee and the recommendations made by the National Minorities Commission and different State Minorities Commissions.

It is interesting to note that the PIL had contended that between 1962 and 2004, over 1200 MLAs out of about 2000 – 55 per cent were Maratha – and more than 72 per cent cooperative institutions were controlled by Marathas. A majority of the ministers were from the Maratha community.

As many as 12 chief ministers of Maharashtra have been from Marathas. The community controls land and cooperative sectors, particularly sugar factories. Most of the education institutions are owned and run by the Maratha community.

Quantifiable data
On the issue of providing reservation to Muslims, the court had said: “In so far as reservations for specified Muslim communities is concerned, there exists sufficient material or quantifiable data to sustain their classification as ‘special backward class’.

This material is in the form of Sachar Committee Report, Justice Ranganath Mishra Committee Report, Report of the Maharashtra State Minority Commission and Dr Mehmood-ur Rehman Study Group Report. Therefore, the state has made out a prima facie case for justifying 5 per cent reservations in favour of specified Muslim communities”

For Fadnavis, resolving the issue of Muslims is a major political issue. He will have to come out with something concrete ahead of budget session of the Maharashtra legislature given the stance taken by the Congress and NCP during the winter session last month. “My government is not against the reservation for Muslims. But the BHC, while upholding reservation for Muslims in education has opposed the same for jobs…this is a legal and technical issue,” he said.

NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said, “The government needs to bring in a separate bill and get it passed. As a matter of fact, the Mehmood-ur Rehman Committee, in its recommendations submitted to the state government, had also suggested giving reservation to Muslims.”

Besides the reservation to Muslims, the Fadnavis government would also have to ensure that the earlier promises and assurances made by the Congress-NCP dispensation of reservation to Dhangar community and Lingayat community are met. 

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