- A Maratha activist has been on a 17-day hunger strike demanding reservation for the Maratha community in jobs and education.
- The demand for a Maratha quota is expected to gain momentum as Lok Sabha and Assembly elections approach.
Historical Context of Maratha Reservation Demand
- Maratha Background: The Marathas, historically identified as a “warrior” caste, comprise mainly peasant and landowning groups, constituting nearly one-third of Maharashtra’s population. They have been a politically dominant community in the state.
- Demand for Reservation: The demand for Maratha reservation dates back to the early 1980s when Mathadi Labour Union leader Annasaheb Patil led the first protest rally in Mumbai.
- OBC Status: The Marathas seek to be identified as Kunbis (Farmers), which would entitle them to benefits under the quota for Other Backward Classes (OBCs). This demand arose after the Supreme Court, in May 2021, struck down the quota for Marathas under the state’s Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC) Act, 2018.
- Bombay High Court Decision: In June 2019, the Bombay High Court upheld the Maratha quota under the SEBC Act but reduced it to 12% in education and 13% in government jobs, in compliance with the 50% reservation limit set by the court.
- Supreme Court Ruling: In May 2021, the Supreme Court declared the Maharashtra law providing reservation to Marathas unconstitutional, citing it breached the 50% reservation cap set in the Indra Sawhney (Mandal) judgment of 1992.
- Impact on EWS Quota: Following the SC’s decision on the 10% quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), the Maharashtra government stated that poor Marathas could not benefit from the EWS quota until the Maratha reservation issue was resolved.
- Government Response: In response to protests and clashes, the government issued a Government Resolution (GR) promising Kunbi caste certificates to certain Maratha community members and referred to an older GR from 2004 pledging reservation for eligible Maratha-Kunbis and Kunbi-Marathas.
OBC Opposition to Maratha Demand
- OBC Organizations: OBC organizations have opposed the Maratha demand for OBC reservations due to quota shrink. They argue that Marathas, as a dominant community, should not share the OBC quota, which is already limited in Maharashtra compared to the national quota.
- Reservation Distribution: Currently, reservations in the state are divided among various categories, including Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs, Special Backward Classes, and others.
- Polarization: The Maratha reservation issue has led to a sharp Maratha-OBC polarization in politics. Traditionally, Marathas leaned towards the Congress and NCP, while the BJP and Shiv Sena garnered OBC support.
- Changing Dynamics: Recent political developments, including splits within parties and alliances, have complicated the political landscape, making the issue even more complex.
- The Maratha reservation issue remains a highly contentious and politically charged topic in Maharashtra, with implications for both social and political dynamics in the state.
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