Even as Ram has started making waves again on the political horizon in India, in Maharashtra the powerful Maratha community has succeeded in being officially recognised as ‘backward’ and, in return, has got a Bill passed that reserves as many as 16 per cent jobs in the State government, semi-government and local self-governments, and 16 per cent reservations in educational institutions.
The Bill to this effect was passed in both houses of the State Legislature on Thursday evening and was promptly dethatched to the Governor’s House for his final consent. The governor C Vidyasagar Rao spared no time and signed the documents within 24 hours to convert the Bill into an Act. By getting the long standing demand converted into an Act, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis not only exhibited his quickness in administration but also came out winner in this powerful game. He silenced all opposition members within a minute and forced each party to stand in a row in support of the government Bill without uttering a word.
Very rarely in the parliamentary history of any state has this happened when all Opposition parties, small and big, have unitedly supported a government action, that meant to provide a huge political mileage to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party — BJP and its leader Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. Not that the Opposition giants like Ajit Pawar of NCP and Dhananjay Munde of the NCP, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil of the Congress had any love lost for the BJP move but they found themselves in deep waters and were left with no choice but to allow being towed by the BJP. This is because the all-important Lok Sabha elections are round the corner and no political force is in a position to rub the electorate on a wrong side as any such action is feared to prove fatal in the elections.
Till then, Fadnavis was riding on a big horse comfortably. He was so confident that within hours after the Bill was passed in both the houses, the CM went on record to state that he had taken enough care to ensure that the Bill would not be challenged in the Court of Law. However, within next 24 hours, a challenge petition has been submitted in the Bombay High Court and the Court has put it for hearing on Monday (today).
Though Maratha organisations have promptly filed Caveat to restrict the Court from ordering any stay for the implementation of the provisions of the newest law, it is for the Court to decide now, on honouring this caveat. If the judiciary takes a view that the implementation of the provisions of the new Act be kept on hold till the arguments and counter arguments on the provisions of the petition are heard, Fadnavis’s decision would be in jeopardy and, in turn, it would not benefit the ruling party in the coming elections. Secondly, it would be difficult to predict the time frame as in the recent example; the judicial process took good 25 years to come to any verdict on the Ayodhya Ram Janmaboomi temple matter.
To bit the earlier view taken by the Supreme Court in connection with the reservation matter, Fadnavis played an intelligent trick. the Court had directed the State and the Central governments not to exceed the reservations beyond 50 per cent. Maharashtra already had 52 per cent seats ear-marked for socially and economically backward class. If the entire Maratha community was allowed to enjoy 16 per cent reservations, the reservation category would have swollen to 68 per cent.
If the State government adhered to the provisions of the new reservation policy, the number of seats under reservation would have crossed 68 per cent, thus invited action under the provisions of the insubordination by the State government. To overcome the threat, Fadnavis Government carved out another category ‘Social and Educational Backward Class’ for Marathas and brought them under reservations without tampering the existing reservations.
Will this trick work this time? If yes, the CM would emerge victorious in this risky game. But he fails at the end of the arguments; Fadnavis would be held responsible singularly and would be forced to face the music at the time of the next Assembly elections. Is the CM ready and prepared to play such a risky game? And if failed, what price he and his close confidents would pay? The answer to this question would decide not only the fate of the reservations for Marathas but also the political career of Fadnavis and his men along with the fate of the BJP.
Uncertainty & frustration
Apart from politics, what else is important in this matter is the hopes and aspirations pinned on the implementation of the provisions of the Bill. If the Maratha Reservations Act remains strangled in judicial wrangle for a longer time than desired, it would bring in an atmosphere of uncertainty and disappointment amidst Maratha youth that has worked overtime for the last three years to sustain state-wide peaceful agitation to press for the demand.
The spell of disappointment and, thus, frustration has the unfortunate potential of leading the Maratha community anywhere; from another rounds of agitations to street violence and finally an unbridgeable wide gap between the militant Marathas and the rest of the population.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed!
Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).