Eknath Shinde's Maratha Quota Move Faces High Odds, A History Of Setbacks

Earlier attempts by Maharashtra governments to introduce reservation for Marathas have been struck down by courts

Eknath Shinde's Maratha Quota Move Faces High Odds, A History Of Setbacks

The Eknath Shinde cabinet has cleared a proposal for Maratha reservation


As the Eknath Shinde government in Maharashtra holds a special Assembly session today on the Maratha reservation issue, it will add another chapter to the long history of the community's fight for quota benefits.

Earlier attempts by state governments to introduce reservation for Marathas have been struck down by courts. But waves of protests and the community's political significance have led to repeated revivals of the sensitive issue. The community accounts for 28  per cent of Maharashtra's population. 

Amid the latest push, Mr Shinde has said reservation to Marathas will be given according to the law after presenting a survey report during the day-long session today.

"The survey has been conducted on nearly 2-2.5 crore people. On February 20, we have called a special session of the assembly after which Maratha reservation will be given according to the law," the Chief Minister has said.

The state government's latest move on the quota issue comes in the wake of a protest led by activist Manoj Jarange Patil, who has started an indefinite hunger strike at his village in Jalna district.

The Maratha Arc

The Maratha community, which gained prominence with Shivaji's founding of the Maratha empire in the 17th century, is more a caste cluster than one caste. The British records used "Maratha" as a term to denote elite layers within various castes. Post Independence, the community opposed any reservation because they did not want the "backward" tag.

But as income from agriculture declined, murmurs began. In the 1980s, caste politics came to the forefront after the Mandal commission report. In Maharashtra, Anna Saheb Patil, then with the Congress, started a movement in demand of reservation for Marathas. This was, however, a demand for quota based on economic criteria and not caste. But as caste politics gained currency following the VP Singh government's move to implement the Mandal commission report, leaders of the Maratha quota agitation started seeking benefits under the OBC category. This was opposed by OBC leaders, who say their share in government jobs and benefits will shrink if Marathas are added to the quota list. Over the years, three central and three state commissions have refused to identity the Marathas as backward.

The Attempts, The Setbacks

In 2014, just before the election, the then Congress government under Prithviraj Chavan implemented a 16 per cent reservation for Marathas. The Bombay High Court struck it down, saying that the Supreme Court had already made it clear that reservation cannot exceed 50 per cent of the total seats.

The next wave of a quota demand came in 2016-2017, shortly after a 15-year-old Maratha girl was gangraped and murdered at Kopardi village in Ahmednagar district. In 2018, the then Devendra Fadnavis government announced 16 per cent reservation for Marathas. This was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2021 on two grounds -- it breached the 50 per cent quota ceiling and that there was no 'extraordinary circumstance' to justify this.

The Eknath Shinde government is now making a third push to bring reservation for Marathas. This legislation proposes a 10 per cent reservation for the community in jobs and education. The cabinet has cleared the proposal and it will now be tabled in Assembly.