Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has reason to be happy that the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBC) has concluded that the Maratha community is socio-economically backward.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has reason to be happy that the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBC) has concluded that the Maratha community is socio-economically backward; he can now go ahead and legislate quotas for this politically powerful group and that will ensure that, come election time, they will vote for the BJP.
The MSBC has said that 37% of Marathas are below the poverty line (the requirement is 25%), 62% of them are marginal and small land-holders (the requirement is 48%), etc. How credible the analysis is remains to be tested, more so since, in 2008, the same commission had said “Marathas are both economically and politically a forward caste … They had never faced social stigma to invite a backward class status”.
Indeed, the Mandal Commission report had also classified Marathas as a forward caste. Given half the MLAs elected since the state was formed, as well as half the chief ministers, have been Marathas, the tag of backwardness is difficult to believe; more so, given the hold of the Maratha community on sugar cooperatives and educational institutions.
So, it remains to be seen whether the report will stand judicial scrutiny. When a committee under Congress leader Narayan Rane had concluded that Marathas were backward, this was dismissed by the Bombay High Court which found the entire survey for the study had been concluded in just 11 days in February 2014.
Assuming that the MSBC finding passes judicial muster, there are still big hurdles that need to be overcome, and it remains to be seen how many yellow lines the government, at the state and the Centre, will cross. Ideally, given the Indra Sawhney cap on reservations, the 16% quota planned for the Marathas should be part of the existing quota, to be got by reducing the quota for some existing OBCs or on a pro rata basis for all.
That, however, would create political problems as the to-be-excluded groups will vote against the BJP. So, what has been planned is to add a fresh 16% quota on top of the existing ones. Since this violates the Indra Sawhney cap, the Central government will need to do some legal footwork to ensure the Maharashtra law passes muster.
Putting it under the Ninth Schedule is a possibility since this allows the law to be protected from the court’s scrutiny. But, on occasion, the courts have stepped in—in IR Coelho, the Supreme Court had ruled the Ninth Schedule was not sacrosanct if a law violated Constitutional provisions on fundamental rights.
At a more fundamental level, the problem is that, with even powerful and prosperous groups creating enough political pressure to get included in the list of backwards, it will encourage others to do the same. Instead of planning to wind down quotas, 70 years after independence, India is just cranking them up.