Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan
Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan

The total reservation in education and government jobs for various groups is now 73 %. The rest is for open category. But the move may not be legally tenable

Mumbai

In a desperate move to rekindle the poll fortunes of the Congress-NCP combine, the Maharashtra government has cleared community based reservations — 16 % for Marathas and 4.5% for Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions. The move, at least in theory, is expected to wean away Maratha votes from the Shiv Sena.

The poll arithmetic is simple: Muslims account for 10.6 per cent of the population in Maharashtra and Marathas around 35 per cent. The so-called ‘social reservation’ move has come just two weeks after Maharashtra Government increased the budget allocation for minorities from Rs 360 crore to Rs 500 crore.

“The Marathas shall be treated as educationally and socially backward section. The reservations for Muslims is based on the criteria of economic and social backwardness and not on religion.    — Prithviraj Chavan

Incidentally, there is already reservation among OBCs for a section of Marathas, known as Kunbis. Maratha Kunbis, who are largely agriculturists, constituted 31.5 per cent of the population. They have a large presence in Vidarbha and Konkan.

At present, 356 backward castes are enjoying 19 per cent reservation, 51 scheduled castes and tribes are entitled to 11 per cent, and 11 other castes in the special backward category are getting 2 per cent reservation.

The Congress immediately hailed the decision while the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders called it ‘unconstitutional’. “The constitution framed by Dr B R Ambedkar did not have any provision for reservation on basis of caste. If there is anything in the Constitution to this effect then we would support it, but we condemn any government decision based on caste. Also this is a blatant attempt to secure Muslim votes. This decision would not be tenable in a court,” BJP President in Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis said.

Fadnavis has a point: The apex court has made it clear that total reservation should not exceed 50%, and incidentally in Maharashtra, it already stands at 52%. In Andhra Pradesh, the former Congress government had announced a 4.5% quota for Muslims, but it was quashed by the high court there.  A number of petitions on this issue are already pending in the apex court and the Chavan government seems to be stepping into a political minefield.

But political observers point out that the state government is not bothered about the legal nuances of its decision and is only looking at its political import. At the time of release of party manifesto, NCP chief Sharad Pawar had promised reservations for Marathas and Muslims; likewise, the Congress, while releasing its additional manifesto on April 25, had assured that if it returned to power, it would provide a 4.5% sub-quota for Muslims within the existing OBC quota. Following a demand from Maratha leaders, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had appointed a committee, headed by industries minister Narayan Rane, which recommended 20% reservation for Marathas.

Maharashtra is not the first State to provide reservations to minorities. The Congress Government in neighbouring Karnataka has already extended a similar quota for Muslims in jobs and education. Tamil Nadu grants 3.5 per cent reservation to Muslims and Christians each in education and employment. Kerala and West Bengal have 12 and 10 per cent reservation for Muslims, respectively. The newly-created Telangana has also proposed 12 per cent reservation for Muslims.

Congress leader Manish Tewari said that his party has always attached utmost importance to minority related issues. “We have always tried to bring the minority into the mainstream. If the Maharashtra government has made reservation for Muslims, then it must be with good reason,” said Tewari.

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