Political reservation for OBCs, now a Maha issue

Political reservation for OBCs, now a Maha issue

The SC said that there was no need to re-visit the 1992 Indira Sawhney judgement which fixed the upper limit of all quotas put together at 50%.


The issue of reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in local bodies has snowballed into a major political issue in Maharashtra, a hot potato for the four big parties – the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress, which run the three-party Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government, and the opposition BJP; and a headache for the State Election Commission (SEC) as the 2022 local body elections, including to big corporations like Mumbai, approach.

Maharashtra had 27% seats in local bodies reserved for the OBCs, but that was struck down. Now, given that the issue involves the Supreme Court, everyone wants to be guarded. 

There is also the matter of quotas for Marathas, Muslims and change in the category of Dhangars. 

In May this year, a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court declared the Maratha quota law unconstitutional. It quashed the Socially and Economically Backward Classes Act, 2018. The state had created a special category -- SEBC -- and provided for a 13% quota in jobs and 12% in education to Marathas, a politically-dominant community. 

The Supreme Court had said that there was no need to re-visit the 1992 Indira Sawhney judgement which fixed the upper limit of all quotas put together at 50%. The Maratha quota law breached this limit. 

Meanwhile, the Congress is seeking a 5% reservation in jobs and education to Muslims and funds for minority community schemes. 

The Dhangar community has renewed its demand for reservation. As of now, the Dhangars get reservation under the Vimukta Jati & Nomadic Tribes (VJNT) category of Maharashtra – 3.5%. The community has been agitating for reservation in the ST category in Maharashtra. The “Dhangad” community in other parts of India has reservation in the SC category. A typographical error Dhangar (Dhangad) led to the discrepancy and they were clubbed under the VJNT category in Maharashtra. 

Of the total 52% reservation in the state, SCs and STs account for 13% and 7%, respectively; OBCs 19%, VJNT, Special Backward Class and Nomadic Tribes 13%.

Quotas were a major issue for the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP-Shiv Sena government; so are they for the current Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress dispensation. 

However, the striking down of the political reservations for the OBCs has come as a rude shock. The OBC communities form a sizable chunk of the leaders and electorates for all the parties. 

In March, the Supreme Court struck down the 27% OBC reservation given under the Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act as it would cause the reservation limit to overshoot the 50% cap. 

Again, in September, the state introduced an Ordinance to amend the Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961, and the Maharashtra Village Panchayat Act for Zilla Parishads, Panchayat Samiti and Gram Panchayats, granting 27% reservation to the OBCs. 

In early December, a division bench comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and C T Ravikumar ordered a stay on it and asked the SEC of Maharashtra not to implement the political quota. 

It may be mentioned here that the Centre had refused to share data from the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) 2011 stating that the data was “unusable” for official purposes because of “mistakes and inaccuracies”. 

However, playing safe, during the winter session of the Maharashtra Legislature, a unanimous resolution was passed postponing elections to the local bodies in the state in the absence of 27% reservation for the OBCs. With the Treasury and Opposition benches on the same wavelength on the issue, the resolution sailed through in the Assembly and Council.

The resolution is important as the SEC has already announced the elections to the de-reserved (from OBC category) seats in 106 Nagar Panchayats, Bhandara-Gondia Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samitis under their jurisdiction on January 18. As per SEC’s poll schedule, 23 of the 105 seats in Bhandara-Gondia ZP, which were earlier OBC seats, will now be converted into general constituencies. 

Also, 45 of the 210 seats in the 15 Panchayat Samitis in the district were OBC seats. Similarly, 344 of the 1,802 seats in 106 Nagar Panchayats were reserved for OBCs, and one of the four seats in municipal corporations where by-polls are scheduled had also been earmarked for OBCs. 

The issue is politically significant as several big corporations, like Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Vasai-Virar, Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Nashik, Nagpur, Amravati, Aurangabad and Solapur are to go to polls in 2022. 

The vexed issue has also become a sort of blame game between the government and the Opposition. 

State Congress president Nana Patole recently said: “The issue of OBC reservations has become complicated because of the BJP and the stand taken by Fadnavis when he was Chief Minister. And they are the ones who are attacking the state government today. If the data from the central government was inaccurate, then why did Fadnavis and Pankaja Munde, the then Rural Development Minister in his government, write to the Centre seeking the same data?” 

“Why was Fadnavis, who is attacking the MVA government today, silent for five years? When I was the Speaker of the Assembly, a resolution was passed in the House to conduct a caste-based census of OBCs. But Union Home Minister Amit Shah did not approve of the exercise. It is clear that the BJP and RSS are working to end reservations,” he said. 

Fadnavis, however, countered saying: “The MVA government was exposed in the Supreme Court on the issue of OBC reservation. The government had earlier told the court that the empirical data of OBCs was not available from the Centre but now it has said it will collect the data in three months. Due to the government’s inaction, the OBC quota was cancelled.” 

However, after detailed talks between MVA and BJP, the parties decided to postpone the local body elections. 


Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox