Fad­navis be­lieves the newly up­held reser­va­tions for Marathas will bol­ster his chances in the assem­bly poll

India Today - - STATES - By Ki­ran D. Tare

Pol­i­tics, the art of the pos­si­ble, makes room for strange ironies. The June 27 Bom­bay High Court or­der up­hold­ing a bill—passed in the Ma­ha­rash­tra leg­is­la­ture on Novem­ber 30, 2018—recog­nis­ing the Marathas as so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally back­ward, and hence en­ti­tled to reser­va­tions in ed­u­ca­tion and

govern­ment jobs, comes just three months ahead of assem­bly elec­tions in the state. The ver­dict will no doubt bol­ster Chief Min­is­ter Deven­dra Fad­navis’s prospects, and it mat­ters lit­tle in the con­text that he is a caste Brah­min him­self.

The high court, how­ever, re­duced the quota from the cur­rent 16 per cent to 12 per cent in ed­u­ca­tion and 13 per cent in govern­ment jobs, as rec­om­mended by the State Back­ward Classes Com­mis­sion. This is be­sides the ex­ist­ing 60 per cent quota in the state, bring­ing the to­tal to 73 per cent, way above the 50 per cent limit man­dated by the Supreme Court in 1992. How­ever, Ma­ha­rash­tra isn’t the only state to have ex­ceeded the SC limit; Tamil Nadu and Haryana have 79 per cent quo­tas, and Te­lan­gana and Andhra Pradesh 77 per cent. This in­cludes the 10 per cent quota the Modi govern­ment an­nounced for Eco­nom­i­cally Weaker Sec­tions in Jan­uary dur­ing its pre­vi­ous term.

The high court did leave room for its ver­dict to be chal­lenged in the Supreme Court but re­fused to grant a stay on the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the quota. The apex court had, in fact, ruled in 2010 that the quo­tas could ex­ceed the 50 per cent limit if a par­tic­u­lar state pre­sented a con­vinc­ing case.

In­ter­pret­ing this as a mi­nor vic­tory, Fad­navis wasted no time in reschedul­ing ju­nior col­lege ad­mis­sions keep­ing the new quota in mind. To en­sure it caught peo­ple’s at­ten­tion, the party’s so­cial me­dia posts claimed that it had achieved some­thing the Congress and the Na­tion­al­ist Congress Party could not in their 15-year rule.

In a can­did ad­mis­sion last year, Fad­navis had said that the farm­ers’ agi­ta­tion, Dalit un­rest fol­low­ing the Kore­gaon-Bhima vi­o­lence on Jan­uary 1, 2018, and Maratha reser­va­tion were the three most dif­fi­cult chal­lenges be­fore him. For the farm­ers, he an­nounced a loan waiver of up to Rs 1.5 lakh un­der the Ch­ha­tra­p­ati Shivaji Ma­haraj Krushi San­man Yo­jana. And this high court ver­dict on reser­va­tions for Marathas will be a fur­ther shot in the arm be­fore the assem­bly poll due in Oc­to­ber.

“We have won a big le­gal bat­tle. We can pro­vide reser­va­tions to the Marathas without touch­ing the reser­va­tions for OBCs,” the chief min­is­ter said, un­der­lin­ing how the in­ter­ests of two prom­i­nent com­mu­ni­ties had been pro­tected. The men­tion of OBCs was de­lib­er­ate, as the com­mu­nity has been a re­li­able base for the BJP for decades.

The HC ver­dict comes at a time when the as­pi­ra­tions of the BJP-Shiv Sena com­bine are run­ning high on the back of a 41/48 vic­tory in the Lok Sabha elec­tion. With a lead in 229 of 288 assem­bly seg­ments, they have al­ready set a tar­get of 220 seats. The Con­gressNCP, on the other hand, are strug­gling to find gaps in Fad­navis’s strat­egy. All state Congress pres­i­dent Ashok Cha­van could say in re­sponse to the HC ver­dict was that it was a vic­tory of the Maratha com­mu­nity’s will and per­sis­tence. NCP leader Jayant Patil’s al­le­ga­tions of mis­use lev­elled against rev­enue min­is­ter Chan­drakant Patil, in a land trans­fer worth Rs 44 crore in Pune, was lost in the din of cel­e­bra­tions over Marathas get­ting reser­va­tion.

Fad­navis’s next chal­lenge is to com­plete the re­cruit­ment drive for 72,000 govern­ment jobs. He has also promised to ful­fil the de­mand of the Dhangar com­mu­nity for Sched­uled Tribe sta­tus, though it is a pre­rog­a­tive of the Union govern­ment. Fad­navis is con­fi­dent that the state govern­ment largesse of Rs 1,000 crore, an­nounced in the bud­get, for the Dhangars, a shep­herd com­mu­nity, will win their sup­port for the BJP in the forth­com­ing elec­tion.

HIGH TIDE A Maratha pro-reser­va­tion march in Mum­bai

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