On Friday, October 9, a tweet by a candidate who was supposed to appear for Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC) exam (previously scheduled to be held on October 11) went viral on social media. In his tweet, one Omkar Vharkat had demanded that the exam not be postponed even if the results have to be delayed and had expressed his anxiety. It was a reply to a senior journalist's tweet regarding postponement of the MPSC exams announced by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Friday itself.
This development has to be understood in the backdrop of the uproar over Maratha reservation. While postponing the MPSC exam, Maharashtra government has claimed that it is being done out of concern for the candidates owing to the pandemic. However, it is no mystery that the demand by Rajya Sabha MP and BJP leader Sambhajiraje Bhosale has a lot to do with the announcement. He has sought postponement of the exam until there is some clarity on the Maratha reservation case.
Bhosale’s popularity is rooted in his ancestry which links him with Chhatrapati Shivaji as well as King Shahu, the pioneer of reservation in India as well as one of the most prominent warriors of social justice. He is also a leader of the Maratha community and has vehemently led the movement for Maratha Reservation for the last 10 years. His demand, therefore, has understandable exerted pressure on the state government.
The Supreme Court has stayed the decision of providing reservation to Marathas under the category 'Socially and Economically Backward Class (SEBC)’ in September. It has referred the issue to a larger bench. The issue is subjudice but also very sensitive socially as well as politically in Maharashtra.
Maratha is the most powerful, largest (32% of the total population) and politically dominant community in Maharashtra. Overlooking the demand of such a community won't help any political party to survive. The community had marched peacefully with a mammoth crowd in 2016-17 across the state for the demand of reservation. The erstwhile Devendra Fadnavis government had brought in reservation for the community under the special category ‘SEBC’ during the Winter Session of the Assembly in 2018. It was passed unanimously by the state assembly as well as council to give the community 13% reservation in educational and employment institutions. This decision has now been stayed by the Supreme Court.
Talking about his tweet, 27-year-old Vharkat said, “It was an outburst. Exam is on October 11 and the government announced the decision to postpone it on October 9. We have been preparing for the entire year. I stayed back at my rented room in Pune during the lockdown period, just to be able to study well. But the government postponed the exam and if that was under political pressure, then it's not done.”
Vharkat, who belongs to the Marath community himself, has a degree in mechanical engineering and a brief job experience with a private company. This will be his fourth attempt at the MPSC exam.
"I too had participated in the marches during 2016-17. My father is a secondary school teacher; so, I won't get a reservation for myself. But I anyway participated because I thought it was my duty to contribute to the battle of my community. But this does not mean that you stop everything. Government should have gone ahead with the exam. It would have relieved lakhs of students like me," said Omkar.
Suraj Patil is a 27-year-old MPSC aspirant, appearing for the exam since 2016. He has been sharing a rented room in Pune's Narayan Peth for the past four years. His expenses, which can go up to Rs 8,000, include Rs 2,500 for rent, Rs 3,000 for a tiffin service and library expenses worth Rs 1,000 and other expenses like mobile phone recharge. So, for the past four years, he has spent about Rs 4 lakh along with Rs 1 lakh as tuition fees for a private coaching centre.
He said, "I am a Maratha by caste. But still I oppose this postponement. Let the exam take place. Keep the result pending until you find a solution to the reservation issue. It would have reduced pressure on candidates like me. With this decision, lakhs of students like me are hanging in uncertainty. This pressure is unimaginable and especially when you are appearing for the fourth time."
Bhagyashree Patil, a 26-year-old, is also frustrated with the situation. She had decided to appear for the exam one last time this year, in her third attempt. "I thought that either I will crack it or leave this forever. I think the government should have thought about students first before taking decisions under political pressure," said Bhagyashree. She further commented on the proposed march of the Maratha community in her city. Kolhapur. It has been organised by various Maratha organisations. “They say that the March will be for Maratha students like us who are appearing for MPSC. But let me tell you, no MPSC candidate will go to the march. What would one do? Study quietly or participate in the march? Exams would have relieved us from the tremendous mental pressure,” she said.
Around two lakh students appear for the MPSC exam per year. The postponement has also hurt them economically apart from taking a toll on their mental health.
A candidate, who is already employed in the government service, but is trying to get a better rank, was also set to appear for the exam on October 11. She told NewsClick on the condition of anonymity, "I was trying for the Deputy Collector’s post this time. I was focused, studied well, even took leave to study. This decision will hurt me not for just one year but in the long term, for two and half years as I have to wait for the next promotion batch.”
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