The move is clearly aimed at reviving the fortunes of the Congress and its alliance partner, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), in the assembly elections to be held in the state later this year.
The two UPA partners had suffered a rout in Maharashtra in the Lok Sabha polls. The Congress could only win 2 of the 48 seats, while its alliance partner NCP fared only marginally better, with 4 seats. The BJP-Shiv Sena-Swabhimani Paksha combine walked away with the remaining 42 seats.
The state cabinet headed by chief minister Prithviraj Chavan met this evening to look into the recommendations of the Mahmood ur-Rehman committee, which had proposed 8 per cent quota for the Muslims. A cabinet sub-committee headed by industries minister Narayan Rane had advocated 20 per cent reservation for the influential and dominant Maratha community.
The cabinet eventually settled for a 16 per cent quota for the Marathas, and another five per cent for the Muslims.
The Congress-NCP alliance has ruled Maharashtra since 1999. It had, in 2012, set up a Cabinet sub-committee headed by Mr Rane to look into the demand for extending OBC reservation to the Marathas. It submitted its report in February this year.
The Mahmood-ur-Rehman committee was set up by the state government in 2008 to look into the social and economic condition of the Muslims in Maharashtra.
While the opposition BJP-Shiv Sena alliance is unlikely to oppose the quota for the Marathas, it has already termed reservations to Muslims on the basis of religion as "unconstitutional"
However, Mr Chavan refuted the charge. "We have not given quota on the basis of religion," he said.
Marathas comprise 32 per cent of the population in Maharashtra, while the OBCs constitute a little over 50 per cent. But political power in the state has remained by and large with the Marathas since Independence.
The big question now is whether these decisions will stand the scrutiny of the court.