Maha becomes caste cauldron as communities get aggressive about reservation
Maharashtra is facing a socio-political crisis as various communities protest for reservation rights, threatening to tear apart the social fabric. Maratha activist Manoj Jarange-Patil is set to resume his hunger strike, demanding benefits for Marathas in the OBC category, and has also joined forces with the Dhangar community, who are agitating for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribes category. The government has not yet made a decision on the demands, leading to increased tensions and protests. This issue is expected to impact the upcoming elections in Maharashtra.
MUMBAI: With several communities up in arms on the reservation issue, Maharashtra has been witnessing an unprecedented socio-political churning which threatens to rip the social fabric.
After a brief lull, the reservation issue is likely to bounce back with Maratha activist Manoj Jarange-Patil’s intention of resuming his hunger strike from Wednesday to demand benefits for Marathas in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category. The issue has also acquired a new twist with Jarange-Patil joining forces with the Dhangar (Shepherd) community which is agitating for inclusion in the Scheduled Tribes category.
The activist’s 40-day ultimatum to the state government to decide on giving Kunbi caste certificates to all Marathas for OBC benefits ended on Tuesday. So far, the government has not taken a decision, which means the activist will resume his agitation on Wednesday. His tour of nine districts has so far received a humongous response from Marathas.
On Tuesday, Jarange-Patil announced that he would not accept food, water or medical support during his forthcoming fast and also issued a diktat that no politician, especially elected representatives, be allowed to enter villages until the reservation issue was resolved. Even before his announcements, several Maratha-dominated villages in central Maharashtra, North Maharashtra and western Maharashtra began putting up banners to this effect. Over the past two days, Maratha youths have held black flags and shouted slogans at the functions of deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and even opposition leaders. They also blocked a minister’s vehicle.
Significantly, on Wednesday, Jarange-Patil extended his support to the Dhangars and advised them to make their protests widespread. “Involve each and every household of your community,” he advised. “Even if you have given the government a 50-day deadline, prepare for a battle. Do not trust the government to do anything immediately,” he declared amid applause at a rally organised by the Yashwant Sena, a Dhangar outfit, in Chaundi in Ahmednagar. The fact of protesting communities joining hands is expected to pose an even bigger challenge to the state government.
The Maratha community, led by Jarange-Patil, has been demanding the issuance of Kunbi certificates to Marathas, enabling them to get inclusion in the OBC category. OBCs, unwilling to share their quota pie, have strongly resisted this. Dhangars, who get 3.5 percent reservation in the nomadic tribe quota, have been demanding inclusion in the scheduled tribe (ST) quota of seven percent for a larger slice of the reservation pie. However, tribals have opposed the demand.
The OBC outfits have already announced an intensification of their agitation if the government makes any move to accept Jarange-Patil’s demand. Likewise, if the Dhangar community gets aggressive about its demand, tribal outfits are also likely to respond.
Sanjay Sonawani, social scientist and expert on reservation issues, said that the reservation issue had disturbed the social fabric of the state over the last decade. “Communities have turned against one another, leading to an environment of suspicion and confrontation, and this has resulted in a reduction in the camaraderie they used to have a decade ago,” he said. “This has happened despite all of them knowing that nobody is going to get what they want. Politicians and intellectuals are not speaking about this but it has disturbed communal harmony. It is shameful for a progressive state like Maharashtra.”
Sonawani pointed out that the issue was complex since it was related to constitutional provisions, and a majority of the decisions came under the ambit of the union government. “There is a need to change the definition of social backwardness under which these communities are demanding reservation,” he said.
Mrudul Nile, associate professor of political science, University of Mumbai, pointed out that there were two types of reservation. “One is constitutional such as that given to scheduled castes and tribes,” he said. “The other is given through executive orders by appointing commissions and giving in to demands by communities. I don’t think constitutional reservation can be changed.”
Nile said that the spurt in the demand for reservations had economic and political reasons. “Post economic liberalisation in 1991, the economy changed and certain castes received a setback,” he said. “They now want reservation in order to progress. Also, following the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution, several castes got a share of power because of reservation in local self-government bodies. This led to the political influence of other castes reducing. That is why they want to be included in reservation categories.”
Nile said that at present it was unclear how the government would handle the situation, given the constitutional and legal restrictions. “But it will definitely impact the outcome of the forthcoming elections,” he said.
(With inputs from Faisal Malik)