This Article is From Nov 16, 2014

Forward to Backward Caste: The Maratha Controversy

(Tejas Mehta is Bureau Chief, NDTV)

They own 75-90 per cent of land in Maharashtra. They control 86 of the 105 sugar factories, 54 per cent of educational institutes and over 71 per cent of cooperative bodies. And since 1962, 55 per cent of MLAs and 12 of the 17 Chief Ministers have risen from this caste.

Yet, the two state governments led by the BJP and the Congress want people to believe that the Maratha caste is so backward that they need 16 per cent reservation in government jobs and for seats in educational institutes. But the Bombay High Court would have none of it and in an interim order has stayed the controversial ordinance passed by the then Congress-NCP government this June.

The court also rejected 5 per cent reservation in public employment for Muslims but allowed the same for educational purposes. Now, the new BJP government has declared they would appeal against the order in the Supreme Court.

In early 2014, the previous government formed a committee under senior Congress leader Narayan Rane which began with the end motive in mind: somehow grant Marathas and Muslims quotas. Then, a few months after they were pummeled by the Modi wave in the Lok Sabha elections, Prithviraj Chavan's government cleared the quotas.

How did they achieve that? By ignoring the law and three detailed reports which categorically rejected that the Maratha caste is socially and educationally backward. In his judgement, Bombay High Court's Chief Justice MS Sonak points out that:

1) Mandal Report of 1990 "chose to include 'Marathas' in the category of 'Forward Hindu Castes and Communities'.

2) National Commission for Backward Classes Report of 2000, said, "it would be appropriate for the community with its glorious history and future capabilities to leave the insulated area of Backward class categorisation and consequent supportive measures to those who have not had such good fortune and hence need special help to advance further.."

3) In 2008, the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission had "categorically rejected the demand for inclusion of 'Marathas' as OBCs for benefits of reservation policy."

But while rejecting the state report, the Rane Committee did not even take cognizance of the findings of the other two documents. In his judgement, Chief Justice Sonak points out to "glaring flaws" in Rane's report stating they conducted the entire survey in just 11 days in February 2014! In fact, after the Census of 1932, no caste-wise enumeration has been carried out in India, yet the report concludes that there are 32 per cent of Marathas in the state.

Moreover, the courts have already in the past declared that for a community to be treated "socially backward", it has to have suffered from taboos and handicaps. The judgement reveals that when asked specifically by the High Court if Marathas were facing any social oppression, discrimination or segregation, the answer from private entities supporting the reservation was "completely in the negative."

Enough has been said by the Supreme Court on reservations given how tempted our netas are to indulge in shameless quota politics.

For reservations in public employment, the Supreme Court has ruled that States cannot breach the ceiling limit of 50 per cent even if there are compelling reasons. So, the High Court rejected the quotas both for Marathas and Muslims as the total reservation in Maharashtra was in the excess.

For seats in educational institutes, the law says that reservation should not exceed 50 per cent except if backed by extraordinary reasons which can be justified on valid grounds. On this count too, the Rane Committee failed to prove their case for Marathas but convinced the court for Muslims' quotas which in any case have a long history of not inculcating modern system of education.

The Congress-NCP government rushed this with an eye on the state elections. Marathas and Muslims weren't exactly enthralled and they were as expected voted out. The court too has given a thumbs down.

The pity is that the new BJP regime is toeing the same line. It's unclear if it's out of political necessity.

Not that that will matter even a wee bit to the Supreme Court.

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