An all-party meeting chaired by Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray unanimously agreed on Friday that elections to 18 municipalities, 21 zila parishad and 340 municipal councils should be postponed until the State Backward Classes Commission collects empirical data on Other Backward Classes (OBCs) as required by the Supreme Court (SC).
The meeting, which was also attended by the Shiv Sena’s alliance partners Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, decided that the polls should be deferred for some time if the commission delays in submitting its report. “All the parties decided that if necessary, elections shall be postponed for some time,” a press release issued by CM’s Office said.
Striking down the state’s review petition for 27% OBC quota in local body polls, the apex court had said in March that the combined quota of Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) and OBCs cannot exceed the 50% cap. The court had also asked the Thackeray government to present empirical data on OBCs in each local body for restoration of the quota within the 50% cap.
“The state government is under pressure to gather accurate data and present it before the court at the earliest. Elections are six months away. The process should be finished within six months else we will be blamed for delaying the collection of data for OBCs,” said a senior minister present at the meeting.
Collecting empirical data on OBCs will be a tough task with the state government required to gather and analyse data in every gram panchayat, tehsil panchayat, zila parishad and municipality as well as municipal councils.
Municipalities like Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nasik, Nagpur and Aurangabad will go to the polls, called ‘mini Assembly’ elections in the state, in February 2022. The decision to postpone the polls could turn out to be problematic with state election commissioner UPS Madan telling the media that there is no provision for postponement of elections for such reasons. “It is okay to postpone the elections considering the pandemic but not for other reasons,” he told reporters.
Thackeray faces the dilemma of either going ahead with the polls and alienate OBCs or seek a legal course to postpone them. On the one hand, an election without OBC quota would backfire politically for the Maha Vikas Aghadi with the BJP, which has a significant base in the community, consolidating its vote bank further. On the other hand, the state government can’t postpone the polls without the apex court’s permission.
The issue of reservation has become a political hot potato in Maharashtra with the powerful Maratha community and the OBCs fighting for domination. All big OBC leaders in the state, including Chhagan Bhujbal of NCP, Pankaja Munde and Chandrashekhar Bawankule of BJP and Vijay Wadettiwar and Nana Patole of Congress have started mobilising the OBCs. Shiv Sena too has a sizable OBC base in Marathwada and Western Vidarbha.