Why do Marathas demand a quota?

Why do Marathas demand a quota?

After four years, the issue of Maratha reservation is centre-stage again in Maharashtra, which poses a political challenge to the ruling Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government. These protests, with their share of political violence, have the potential to affect the socio-political stability of the state.

To compound matters, the state government’s ally the territorial-linguistic-cultural party, the Shiv Sena, along with the opposition partners Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), have taken a position against the government and support the demand for reservation. 

In 2014, the Bombay High Court quashed the previous Congress-NCP government’s notification to grant 16% reservation to Marathas in jobs and education. The court responded positively to a Public Interest Litigation which challenged the reservation given that the impugned notification was passed only months ahead of the Maharashtra assembly elections of 2014.

The 3.6-crore strong Maratha community, which is roughly one-third of the state’s population of 11 crore, according to the 2011 Census, protests for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. Despite the Marathas being a ‘forward caste’, they demand reservation just as the Jats, Gurjars and Patidars also do. The Maratha community originates from among the 96 different clans or Kulis. While different historians define the 96 Maratha clans differently, an authoritative list was first attempted in 1889 and thereafter the Government of India finalised it in 1956.

The Marathas face an uncertain future despite the large tracts of land that they own and their dominance in Maharashtra politics. Their historical supremacy is threatened in the new, globalised economic order where farm incomes are eclipsed by higher education and skilled jobs. Prolonged rural and farm distress compels the youth to explore other non-agricultural avenues for income generation.

With the increasing agrarian distress as evident from the rising number of farmers’ suicides in the state, the Marathas are compelled to enhance their representation in higher education and the quaternary sector of the economy, which refers to professionals like architects, doctors, lawyers, teachers or engineers.

Perhaps Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ official announcement in May that 72,000 government jobs would be advertised in 2018-2019 intensified the vigour of the Marathas’ protest. In India, the provision of reservations in higher education institutions, government jobs and elections was introduced to bring the hitherto marginalised or deprived sections of the society into the mainstream and to further promote and preserve social justice and cohesion. But this modus operandi of empowerment is not immune to criticism by its practicality and derived results.

Reservation as a policy is designed to remedy injustices that some groups of people have suffered and it aims to correct injustice, but generates a different kind of injustice when it comes to the practice of absolute equality. Amongst both schools of thought — its supporters and critics — the idea evokes passionate reactions on account of its complex nature when perceived through both the dimensions of equality and social justice.

Globally, the concept of reservations is referred to as affirmative action, which is a tool based on the idea of an egalitarian state. The advent of an egalitarian state and the introduction of universal adult franchise compel almost all states to formulate policies and strategies for affirmative action to address the genuine grievances of disadvantaged sections of society. Although the rationale of affirmative action varies from place to place, it largely seeks to address structural inequalities between different groups in a society.

Clearly, there are anomalies related to the reservation policy in the country. Otherwise, several forward castes and communities would not demand reservation, meant to compensate for the historical wrongs inflicted on the socially backward sections and to uplift them. This also poses a political problem for the State as well as creates bad blood among different communities which affects social harmony.

Reservation is going to stay in the country for a prolonged period as caste and other identities play a significant role in electioneering process in India. To that extent the policy of reservation will ultimately defeat the purpose of the country’s founding fathers’ dream of an egalitarian state, stood upon the ideals of social justice and liberty.     

The Devendra Fadnavis-led government should address the concerns of Marathas which, if allowed to disturb the socio-political stability in Maharastra, would have nation-wide implications. More so since Maharastra is among the top five industrialised states of the country and its capital Mumbai is an important port which supports foreign trade. It is therefore high time the Centre and the states to thought over the need to redefine and modify the meaning, nature, scope and structure of reservations in the country.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of International Studies and History, Christ Deemed to be University, Bengaluru)

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