Ever since the demand for reservations to the Maratha community began gaining momentum and threatening the survival of the then Prithviraj Chavan-led Congress-NCP government in 2013, prominent political leaders from the Marathas jumped the bandwagon, offering their whole-hearted support for the cause. Be it the Congress and the NCP or the BJP and the Shiv Sena, hardly any leader belonging to the dominant community was left behind in upholding the demand. Now, after almost seven years, these leaders may find it difficult to face the anguish of their community, whose aspirations for reservation in education and jobs have come crashing thanks to the Supreme Court judgment.
The state government has lost its case twice before. First, when the Bombay High Court did not approve the Prithviraj Chavan-led Congress-NCP government’s decision to offer reservation to the Marathas and Muslims. And now, it is the decision taken during the term of the BJP-Shiv Sena government, led by Devendra Fadnavis.
Most importantly, the two reports - one by the Narayan Rane-led committee and another by the state’s backward class commission, have been disapproved by the Supreme Court as the basis for reservation. The Rane committee was appointed by the Congress-NCP government after the then state backward class commission refused to consider the demand.
The reservation offered by the Congress-NCP government in 2014 was struck off by the Bombay High Court saying that it lacked the backing of the backward class commission.
Now, the Supreme Court has set aside the recommendation of the state backward class commission appointed during the BJP-Shiv Sena rule that had favoured reservation. It was specially appointed to consider the demand for reservations for Marathas. But the SC judgment comes as the final word to halt any further move on one of the hottest issues in state politics.
While disapproving the report of the state backward class commission, the SC has said that that the conclusion of the commission on the social and educational backwardness of the Maratha community was not acceptable. It was based on the representation that the community members have in politics, in the state cabinet and as board members of various institutions in the cooperative movement and as trustees who run educational institutions. On merit, such an argument is difficult to set aside.
Despite being aware of the fact that it was difficult to prove the social backwardness of the Maratha community, prominent leaders across the party lines preferred to lift up spirits saying reservation was the only solution for the progress of the community. No leader came forward with the honest confession that successive governments had failed to ensure the equitable allocation of state resources for the development of the community.
Almost every leader from the community took pride in leading the Marathas, just for the sake of politics only. When it came to offering representation in politics, most important positions, right from the state legislature to Parliament, local and civic bodies, cooperative institutions, precedence was given to their family members leaving very little for others from the community. The issues of backwardness on the economic and educational front came to the fore in recent years, when cooperative institutions such as sugar factories and banks began crumbling due to mismanagement and misappropriation of funds, non-remunerative prices to agricultural produce, shrinking job opportunities in the private sector and the government, the high cost of education etc.
While most community members were finding it difficult to survive in challenging times, rarely had a leader come forward with some innovative ideas to improve the scenario. The community youth is used to achieving political goals and among them are youngsters from the Marathwada region, where the backwardness on the economic and educational front has been alarming. There is a large number of youths asking for jobs that are not forthcoming.
Now, after the SC decision that comes as the seal of rejection, this aggrieved section of the community is certain to provide some restless moments in the coming days, mostly because of their disenchantment with the political class. Such a situation is alarming for the homogeneity of the state in its 61st year of existence. The late Y B Chavan, the first chief minister of the state, while replying to the debate on the bill of formation of Maharashtra state, had clearly told the state legislature that all of us will have to strive for the all-inclusive development of the state. He said overall development meant the progress of the regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada, joined with the then Bombay state.
Despite these words, successive governments have scarcely paid any attention to inclusive growth, leading to a feeling that the aspirations of the citizens from Marathwada and Vidarbha have never been fulfilled, creating a backlog of development.
Unless some sincere efforts are made to assuage the feelings of the Marathas, the situation may worsen further. On Wednesday, reactions from the young community members were those of dejection and frustration. This is going to be a major challenge for the Maha Vikas Aghadi government as well as the BJP, when the state is fighting the pandemic.