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Is Maratha Reservation Issue Still Relevant on Ground?

After taking to streets two years ago, Marathas were granted reservation by the state government, but the matter is stuck in court. NewsClick finds out if the issue can still impact elections.
Maratha agitation

Sangita More has a diploma in education (D-ed) and is waiting for a teacher’s job. When the Maharashtra government granted reservation to Marathas for education and jobs in government, she was very happy. She thought her battle for a job will be over. But More is still jobless as neither has recruitment started, nor has reservation become a reality. “Now reservation is a joke. It is stuck in court. The government had promised us reservation, but failed to keep it,” she said.

Whether supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or Opposition parties, Maratha youths feel let down. Their struggle for reservation had reached a peak in 2017-18. The community had conducted massive marches of around 15 to 20 lakh people per city, 57 morchas were held across state between August 2016 and December 2016.

After this, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis assured them reservation on the floor of the Assembly, and the government also set up a commission to find out the community’s social and educational status, which submitted its report in November 2018. The report was not tabled in the Assembly but an Action Taken Report (ATR) suggests the granting of reservation. So, the state government brought in a law. But it was challenged in the Bombay High Court. The case is now being heard.

Also read: Maharashtra Govt Proposes 16% Reservation for Marathas

In India, reservation has become more a political issue than a social one. The Marathas, who are 32% of the state’s population, are politically dominant. The state has been ruled by the Congress and later in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for almost 60 years. The leadership of these parties has always been from the Maratha community. So, questions have been raised about the need of reservation for Marathas.

Though the community is politically strong, various reports, including the commission reports, suggests that a huge chunk of the Maratha population is still deprived of basic facilities. As per a research study by the Gokhale Institute of Economics in Pune, 40% of total farmer suicides were from the Maratha community. This is a reflection of the financial stress being faced by the community, whose youth are looking at reservation as a solution.

Nikhil Gawande works in local travel company as an assistant. He had participated in a morcha in Yavatmal in 2016. “We had voted for BJP in 2014. We were assured reservation that time. Other assurances like Rs 15 lakh and all were non- serious. We knew this even then. But reservation was real and serious. BJP has not kept it,” he said.

Sachin Yevale, 25, from Nanded, works as a helper in a garage. “I am BA pass, but I don’t have a job. I keep applying for clerk posts in government. Had the reservation happened, I would have got a job,” he said.

Though very few youths are open about their electoral preference over the issue of Maratha reservation, but it looks like Maratha youths are a divided lot. “The BJP government tried hard. If the issue is in court, what can they do? We shall pray for an early verdict,” said Pandurang Somavase of Nanded city, who works as a helper in a garment shop.

Thought these are symbolic reactions, they also go to show that issue will be alive in the minds of Maratha youths while voting. “With jobs becoming the number one issue in this election, as we see almost all surveys showing that, the reservation will have some impact on the elections for sure. Reservation and jobs are inter-related issue for a large number of youths, as they see government jobs as the most secure. That will impact the voting preference,” said senior journalist Anant Dikshit.

Also read: Who’s Responsible For Violent Maratha Agitation in Maharashtra?

During the local body elections of 2017, BJP succeeded in bringing the non-Maratha caste together. It won almost all municipalities as well as the highest number of seats in the zila parishad and tehsil panchayat. But this non-Maratha strategy has its limitations. In the Assembly elections, the leadership from the Maratha community has the ultimate say on realpolitik. Assembly elections are just five months away. So, BJP can’t take the risk of going with strategy of local body elections. That gives space for the Opposition Congress and NCP, mainly from the Maratha community, to place itself in this complex issue. That’s why the battle for Lok Sabha is wide open in Maharashtra.  

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