It is a bane of democracy and vote bank politics as it is practiced in India today that some castes that were commonly recognised as forward castes are today vying for being classified as backward to appropriate the benefits of backward status. Parties resort to political blackmail to get their demands accepted and governments are increasingly succumbing to it.
The latest case in point is the Maratha community in Maharashtra which was identified as a forward caste by even the famed Mandal Commission which went into the whole gamut of reservations but has now been accepted as backward by the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government evidently for fear that the party would lose out on the crucial Maratha vote in a State where Marathas account for a whopping 31 per cent of the population.
Earlier, as the Maratha reservation agitation raged, the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) headed by Justice (retired) NG Gaikwad had found Marathas to be socially and educationally backward. In its report, the commission had recommended reservation for Marathas in government jobs and educational institutions without tampering with the existing quota for the OBCs. This essentially meant that a separate quota in jobs and educational institutions would be created for Marathas in Maharashtra.
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The backward commission report needed first to get approval of the Maharashtra cabinet which it got. Now the report should get approval
of the Maharashtra Assembly. The next step would involve approval by the Union Cabinet followed by adding Marathas to the list of communities eligible for reservation in jobs and educational institutions. This expansion of the list of reserved communities should get nod from the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha separately. And finally, the President
will be approached for assent. It will become law after presidential assent.
As the norms go, a community after being recognised as socially and educationally backward and added to the list of reserved
castes/classes gets 50 per cent reservation against its share in the population of the state. As Marathas comprise about 31 per cent
population of Maharashtra, they would be entitled to get 15-16 per cent reservation. If they get the promised 16 per cent, the total
quota may go up to 68 per cent in Maharashtra.
A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Indira Sawhney case in 1992 had ruled that total reservation for backward classes could not go beyond 50 per cent mark. The Supreme Court and various high courts have repeatedly held that rule though there are a couple of
The Justice Gaikwad Commission report favouring separate quota for the Marathas followed three previous rejections by different bodies. The
Mandal Commission report placed Marathas in the category of Forward Hindu Castes and Communities. The National Commission for Backward Classes Report in 2000 rejected Marathas claim of being backward. Again in 2008, the MSBCC “categorically rejected the demand for inclusion of Marathas as OBCs for benefits of reservation policy.”
Yet, if the Fadnavis government is seeking a nod from the court, it is essentially because any rejection can be blamed on the court while the government acts innocent.
Maharashtra is indeed not alone in this quagmire. In Rajasthan, the Jats, another forward caste is agitating for reservations and has got some assurances while in Gujarat the whole edifice of Hardik Patel’s campaign against the state government is on reservation for Patidars or Patels.
When the framers of the country’s Constitution first mooted reservations, it was for a limited period to help the backwards overcome the handicap of having been discriminated against
economically for decades.
Subsequently, however, the political parties found it expedient to use these communities as vote banks. That this has subverted democracy and cultivated vested interests is beyond question. The agitations by some forward castes to be included among beneficiaries by forcing
governments to classify them as backwards is a new dimension that is making a virtual mockery of the original purpose of reservations.
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As of now, it seems inconceivable that any government would have the courage to cry a half to reservations to honour the spirit of the
limited period reservations envisaged originally.