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The Tuesday Interview | 'I will plead with PM Modi to conduct a pan-India caste survey'

The Tuesday Interview | 'I will plead with PM Modi to conduct a pan-India caste survey'

I was keen to go to the Rajya Sabha for the vacancy created by the resignation of Praful Patel. But the party decided to nominate Sunetra Pawar. Everybody agreed, says Chhagan Bhujbal.

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Last Updated : 25 June 2024, 00:26 IST
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Veteran OBC leader and Maharashtra’s Food, Civil Supplies, and Consumer Protection Minister, Chhagan Bhujbal, is upset. The reasons are many, and he is openly expressing displeasure, causing concern for the BJP-led Maha Yuti run by the Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis-Ajit Pawar troika.

A seasoned politician, Bhujbal has held various significant positions and is known for making comebacks. Bhujbal, founder of Akhil Bharatiya Mahatma Phule Samata Parishad, is upset over the handling of the Maratha reservation issue and the dilution of the OBC quota. A pan-India caste survey will bring out the truth, Bhujbal tells DH’s Mrityunjay Bose in an interview. Excerpts: 

Why are you upset with the Maha Yuti government’s handling of the situation?

It is not me being upset. The results of the Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra reflect this in detail. The OBC voter base has swayed away from the alliance. The government appears to be giving in to all the demands of (Maratha reservation campaigner) Manoj Jarange-Patil, logical or illogical, over the past few months. There is a threat that the OBC community will lose its reservation. Politically speaking, the BJP’s standing will erode if the OBCs are alienated. Even before the Lok Sabha polls, I told the leadership of the BJP, Shiv Sena, and NCP about the OBC community being upset. But perhaps it did create the buzz. 

Why does the OBC community feel threatened?

The OBCs, a conglomeration of 374 groups and communities under one umbrella, get 27% reservations. The OBCs make up around 54% of Maharashtra’s population. The Bihar government undertook a caste survey, which shows that their population is 63%. Our only demand is that there should be no tampering with the OBC quota in any manner. And for this, there should be a caste survey.

What is the way out?

I will plead with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to issue the necessary instructions and directives for a comprehensive pan-India caste survey. There are political parties within the ruling coalition and the Opposition camp that favour a caste survey. The BJP’s two crucial NDA allies, the Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar, completed a caste survey in Bihar, and the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and TDP chief, N Chandrababu Naidu, has called for one. A comprehensive caste survey will bring out the truth.

Why are you objecting to Maratha reservation?

Let me explain in detail. First of all, we are not against reservation for the Marathas but against the backdoor entry of the Marathas into the OBC quota. Yes, Kunbis (a sub-caste of Marathas, primarily engaged in agriculture) are covered under OBCs. Jarange-Patil asked for Marathas to be given reservations under Kunbis based on old records. The government created Kunbi-Maratha and Maratha-Kunbi categories, under which more than 55 lakh certificates have been used. Now Jarange-Patil wants a formal notification on ‘sage-soyare’  (Marathi for ‘relatives from the family tree’), which widens the scope of the quota. What would happen to the OBC quota in that case? 

The government has already given reservations to the Marathas. 

The Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Bill, 2024, was passed in the state legislature, paving the way for a 10% reservation. This does not impact the OBC category. However, a similar law was struck down by the Supreme Court a few years ago. If you look at Maharashtra, the majority of the chief ministers are from the Maratha community so are the majority of the MPs, MLAs, and ministers. The Marathas are the ruling community from the gram panchayat to the zilla parishad to the state government.

You had resigned as a minister... 

Yes, last year I resigned as a minister. However, they have not yet accepted it. If they ask me to resign as an MLA, I would do it happily. 

How did the Maratha vs OBC issue impact the BJP and its allies in Maharashtra? 

The results speak for themselves. The Maha Yuti got 17 seats, as against the Maha Vikas Aghadi’s 31. Look at the 2014 and 2019 results, and now the 2024 one. What are the BJP’s numbers? From 23 seats, they had come down to nine. Just look at one constituency, Beed, where the BJP’s Pankaja Munde, an OBC leader, lost. Her defeat shows that OBCs are angry. 

You are also upset about being ignored for Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. 

I was not even aware. It was conveyed by our leaders (Ajit Pawar, Praful Patel, Devendra Fadnavis, and Chandrashekhar Bawankule) that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah want me to contest. They proposed the name of Sameer Bhujbal (nephew), who is a former MP. However, Shah wanted ‘Minister Bhujbal’ to contest Nashik. After that, there was a lull. I was told that sitting Shiv Sena MP Hemant Godse, even though he was facing anti-incumbency, wanted to contest. On the other hand, Shiv Sena (UBT)’s Rajabhau Vaje had already launched preparations. I decided to stay away. But Godse’s name was announced only a day before nominations came to an end. Why the delay? 

I was keen to go to the Rajya Sabha for the vacancy created by the resignation of Praful Patel. But the party decided to nominate Sunetra Pawar. Everybody agreed. 

There is speculation that you would leave NCP and Maha Yuti.

As you said, these are speculations. Let speculation be speculation. Our job is to repair the damage that has been done. We saw what happened in the Lok Sabha polls. It was an alarm bell for what is to come in the Vidhan Sabha polls if things are not put back in order.

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