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  Opinion   Columnists  05 Nov 2023  Sunil Gatade | Maratha quota issue unravels like ‘time bomb’ in Maha politics

Sunil Gatade | Maratha quota issue unravels like ‘time bomb’ in Maha politics

The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.
Published : Nov 6, 2023, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Nov 6, 2023, 12:05 am IST

The issue has taken centre-stage with the emergence of Manoj Jarange Patil from the backward Marathwada region.

Maratha activist Manoj Jarange Patil. (Image: Twitter)
 Maratha activist Manoj Jarange Patil. (Image: Twitter)

Maharashtra is now witnessing testing times. The vexed Maratha reservation issue is a ticking time bomb ahead of the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in the state, which is facing a political maelstrom.

The issue has taken centre-stage with the emergence of Manoj Jarange Patil from the backward Marathwada region. The 41-year-old activist is issuing deadlines one after another and the four crore-strong Maratha community is eating out of his hands.

Jarange Patil’s virtual sidelining of the political class has stunned Maharashtra, which had never seen such a phenomenon in recent times. His word has virtually become law. Attacks on government properties and the homes of politicians during Jarange Patil’s fasts are clear indicators of the growing unrest in the state.

The tussle between the restive Maratha youth, who see a hopeless future, and those who have been enjoying pelf and power on their backing, has turned the political landscape topsy-turvy. Naturally, the issue has caused turmoil, anxiety and a sense of impending chaos among the political class. 

Maharashtra is caught in a Catch-22 situation. It faces turmoil as the youth do not want to wait any longer and the process for granting reservation is a long-drawn one. Young people in the state feel cheated. For two decades, the issue has been talked about, but the action taken ahead of elections has fallen well short of expectations.

Till some time back, Marathas had taken out silent marches all over the state, including in Mumbai, with lakhs and lakhs of people peacefully marching for the demand for the betterment of the community, which constitutes some 32-34 per cent of the 12.5 crore population.

Whether anyone likes it or not, a quota for Marathas is expected to play a significant role in coming electoral battles if a resolution isn't reached in the next two months. The worst to suffer in such a scenario will be the BJP as it is currently in power in the state.

Maharashtra is not an ordinary state. With 48 Lok Sabha seats, it is second only to Uttar Pradesh, with 80 seats. The BJP has leapfrogged from the number four position to number one in the Maharashtra Assembly and the Lok Sabha since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emergence on the national scene in May 2014. But since coming to power some 16 months back, the BJP has failed to settle down and there is nothing much to write home about its rule.

At such a time, the Maratha reservation issue has become the biggest challenge for the BJP-dominated government. The government was formed after a split in the Shiv Sena, which led to the ouster of chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and installing his friend-turned-foe Eknath Shinde in his place. Despite the split in the Sena and recently in the NCP, the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi is putting up a spirited fight.

The BJP, which has actively courted OBCs in the state for decades, has to maintain a balance. It has to ensure the influential Maratha community is not alienated. The Marathas have been with the Congress since Independence and the parting of ways by Sharad Pawar some 25 years back saw a sizable section making the NCP their home. 

Experts say a fair deal for the Marathas is necessary as the majority of the community living in the countryside has been facing difficult times with the growing agrarian distress. The economic liberalisation of 1991 has brought in its wake a host of problems for the rural areas. Despite Maharashtra being the foremost industrialised state, it faces problems of migration to urban areas and poverty. The spate of farmers’ suicides also shows that all is not well.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah have kept a studied silence on the reservation issue given that it has huge implications. But the beleaguered BJP leadership is studying the whole issue of how to deal with the growing aspirations of several communities amidst the Opposition’s campaign for a caste census. Only last week, the BJP high command held consultations on how to go about the issues regarding OBCs. Maharashtra deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who is the BJP’s topmost leader in the state, was especially present.

For the beleaguered Eknath Shinde government, the best thing that has happened amid the growing crisis is that Jarange Patil has suspended his fast for two months to enable the satte administration to provide Kunbi certificates to Marathas wherever possible. The CM is trying his best, but whether he is getting cooperation from others is a debatable issue.

How much the government would be able to achieve on the reservation demands in the next two months needs to be seen given the fact that the issue is much more complex and there are no quick and easy solutions.

While every political group in the state backs the demand for Maratha reservations, they are equally wary of antagonising the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), a cluster of significant and diverse backward communities in the state. Some OBC factions have protested against the Marathas encroaching on their reserved quotas.

The “haves” and “have-nots” among the Marathas themselves are also divided on whether they should be included among the backward communities. The “blue-blooded” or “shahnnav kuli” (hailing from 96 families) boasts of being a marshal community, like many others.

The Supreme Court's ruling against the Maharashtra law that sought to grant reservations to Marathas based on their social and economic status further complicates the issue.

With the CM and others facing challenges under the anti-defection law, the state's political leaders are hanging on by a thread, desperately trying to navigate this volatile situation.

Maharashtra now stands at a crossroads, with a volatile situation that is quickly unravelling.

Tags: maratha quota, eknath shinde, manoj jarange patil