DH Deciphers | Caste-ing net ahead of Maharashtra Assembly polls

Mrityunjay Bose gives an overview of the caste equations that will come into play in the Vidhan Sabha election later this year as more communities have started demanding reservation.
Last Updated : 01 July 2024, 01:19 IST

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With Assembly polls approaching, the reservation issue is becoming more and more complex in Maharashtra by each passing day. Controversies surrounding the Maratha reservation and dilution of the OBC quota issues impacted the Lok Sabha polls and are likely to come into play in the Vidhan Sabha election later this year as more communities have started demanding reservation. Mrityunjay Bose gives an overview:

What is the extent of reservation in Maharashtra?

The following is the break-up: (1) Scheduled Castes – 13% (2) Scheduled Tribes – 7% (3) Denotified Tribes (A) – 3% (4) Nomadic Tribes (B) – 2.5% (5) Nomadic Tribes (C) - 3.5% (6) Nomadic Tribes (D) - 2% (7) Special Backward Category – 2% and (8) Other Backward Classes – 19%. This accounts for 52% quota- 2% higher than the Supreme Court cap of 50% reservation. In addition, the 10% quota on economically weaker sections is also applicable.

What is the demand of Marathas?

The Maratha community has been demanding reservation for over three decades as they account for 33% of the state’s population but struggle with livelihood issues, particularly in rural Maharashtra. In June 2014, the Congress-NCP Democratic Front government headed by Prithviraj Chavan approved a proposal to reserve 16% of government jobs and seats in educational institutions for Marathas and 5% for Muslims. The approval happened ahead of the Vidhan Sabha polls. But in November 2014, the Bombay High Court stayed the decision. After coming to power, the BJP-Sena government led by Devendra Fadnavis moved the Supreme Court, but the apex court refused to vacate the Bombay High Court's interim stay order. In May 2021, a five-judge Constitution Bench pronounced its judgment in which the bench struck down the reservations for exceeding the 50% limit.

What options are on the table?

The Eknath Shinde government opened two routes: either a 10% quota under the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes or as Kunbis, a sub-caste of the Maratha, covered under the OBCs category. But activist Manoj Jarange-Patil demands implementation of the ‘sage-soyare’, a Marathi term for ‘blood relatives from the family tree (outside the marriage)', which widens the scope of the quota.

What is the issue with OBCs?

Senior leaders like Chhagan Bhujbal and the Leader of Opposition Vijay Wadettiwar see the Kunbi reservation formula (so far 57 lakh records showing the link between people from two communities have been discovered) as a dilution of the OBC reservation.

What is the demand of the Dhangar community?

The Dhangar community — traditional nomadic shepherds — who get 3.5% reservation in education and jobs under Nomadic Tribes (C) category demand that they be placed under Scheduled Tribes category, which has a 7% quota. The community leaders claim 'Dhangar' and 'Dhangad' are same and a "typographical error" has deprived them in Maharashtra to get the ST benefits unlike other states. The ST community is opposed to the idea as it will dilute their quota. The Dhangars account for 9-10% of the state's population. After the Marathas, Dhangars are the biggest population group.

What is the Madhav formula?

The Dhangar community forms part of the 'Ma-Dha-Va' (or Madhav formula) involving the communities of Mali, Dhangar and Vanjari: a supporter group that the saffron party has been nursing since 1980s as an alternative to Congress’ traditional Maratha-Dalit-Muslim vote bank. But things have changed. Dhangar votes are important for both the BJP-led Maha Yuti and Congress-led Maha Vikas Aghadi in the wake of the realignment of the political forces.

What are the demands of Lingayats?

The Lingayats demand a Constitutional recognition as a religious and a minority status in Maharashtra. The community has sought the inclusion of 32 sub-castes in the reservation for OBC, SBC and NT categories. They have a sizable presence in western Maharashtra and Marathwada districts like Solapur, Latur, Sangli and Kolhapur bordering Karnataka, and Yavatmal and Washim in Vidarbha.

Are the Muslims too demanding reservation?

Maharashtra state Congress working president Naseem Khan has been demanding restoration of quota for Muslims for several years. Ahead of the Assembly polls, NCP leader Saleem Sarang, chief of AIUB’s Wakf wing, has threatened to hit the streets with the demand.

What is the way forward?

The Centre should hold a pan-India caste survey, which would give an exact picture on the caste equation in each state. Since there are demands from other states on reservation, the Union government needs to take a closer look and discuss it in the Parliament.

Published 01 July 2024, 01:19 IST

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