Senior cabinet minister and OBC leader Chhagan Bhujbal on Saturday further escalated the ongoing controversy over reservations for Marathas in government jobs and education, pointing out that 80% of people belong to the OBC category while Marathas form only 20% of the population. This was a veiled warning to all political parties that they would not get OBC votes in the upcoming elections to the Lok Sabha and state assembly if they did anything to dilute their quota of 27% in government jobs and education. He mentioned that even though there is a 27% reservation for OBCs in government jobs, the number of OBCs was only one percent, emphasizing the need to fill the remaining 26%.
Chhagan Bhujbal's speech in Indapur
Addressing a large gathering at Indapur in Pune district, he openly asked whether senior Maratha leaders like Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil and Harshvardhan Patil would like to be categorized as kunbis. Both leaders are upper-caste (shahyanaukuli) Marathas, unlike kunbis, who are primarily agriculturists. It may be recalled that BJP leader and Union minister Narayan Rane had openly declared recently that upper-caste Marathas did not want kunbi certificates, revealing intense intra-caste distinctions within the Maratha community.
Mr. Bhujbal said, "Our only demand is that there should be no tampering with the OBC quota in any manner whatsoever." He asserted that OBCs would never tolerate anyone playing around with their quota. This was a clear threat to the state government led by Maratha CM Eknath Shinde, which is under tremendous pressure from Maratha leader Manoj Jarange-Patil to include Marathas in the OBC list. He also questioned why Maratha intellectuals were silent when Jarange-Patil campaigned for OBC status for Marathas. Mr. Bhujbal accused the police of partiality, stating that they permitted Jarange-Patil's rallies late into the night while OBC meetings were asked to be concluded before 10 p.m. He asked, "Is the law only for the OBCs?" In a direct snub to Jarange-Patil, Bhujbal said he had become the mayor of Mumbai and an MLA before the Maratha leader was even born. Bhujbal challenged Jarange-Patil to become the sarpanch of his village, Antarwali Sarati, in Jalna district.
Jarange-Patil's December 24 deadline
Meanwhile, Jarange-Patil stated that the December 24 deadline for the state government to announce quota for Marathas was final. He warned that Marathas, especially youths, would demonstrate their power if the deadline was not adhered to by the Shinde government. The state government has pinned all its hopes on the Supreme Court taking up its curative petition for reservation to Marathas for consideration and arguments. However, if the apex court dismisses the petition, as in the past, then the BJP-led Maha Yuti government will face the wrath of Maratha agitators, a situation it would like to avoid in view of the upcoming polls.