Sunday, December 3, 2023

Explainer: What is behind Maratha quota protest?

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The home of Nationalist Congress Party leader and Member of Legislative Assembly in Mahrashtra’s Beed, Prakash Solanke, was allegedly set on fire by the protesters demanding reservations for the Maratha Community in the education and employment sector.

“I was inside…..none of my family members got injured. We are safe but have incurred huge property loss”, the politician told the media after the incident.

The Maratha quota agitation in the past weeks after the Jalna-based Maratha quota activist Manoj Jarange Patil intensified his protest demanding reservations and initiated another hunger strike on October 25.

Jarange Patil was already on a hunger strike since August 29 before he announced another on October 24. Patil broke his fast once on September 14, in front of Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and other legislators when he was given assurance to take a decision about the reservation from the government within 40 days, that got over on October 24.

Jarange Patil starting another hunger strike said, “We had given 40 days to the government to respond to the Martha reservation demand that expired on Oct 24 and hence I am sitting on hunger strike again”, The Indian Express reported.

The Maratha Quota Reservation issue made the headlines when Maharashtra Police allegedly lathi-charged and used tear gas on the protestors in Jalna’s Antarwali village on September 1. The government came under criticism from the opposition leaders for using force against the protestors demanding reservations for the Maratha community.

Who are Marathas and what is the Maratha Quota?

The Marathas in the Maharashtra state are groups of people mostly comprising peasants and landowners also used to be known as ‘warriors’. The community with a historically agrarian background has been seeking reservations in employment and education in the government sector for decades.

It is the long-standing issue of nearly 32 years citing land distribution which resulted in financial stability and further agrarian distress among the Maratha Community.

The movement seeking reservation was started in 1981, by Annasaheb Pathil, Mathadi Labour Union Leader in Mumbai and since then it has become an important issue in Maharashtra politics. In the years 2017 and 2018, Maharashtra witnessed huge protests for the same cause.

Interestingly, Maharashtra politics since its formation in 1960 has been dominated by Maratha leaders. 12 out of 20 elected chief ministers so far, including the present one Eknath Shinde belong to the Maratha community. But none of them could find a solution to the reservation demand.

Where do Courts stand on The Maratha Quota?

In June 2019, the Bombay High Court upheld the constitutional validity of the Maratha Quota under the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018, granting a 12 percent quota in education and 13 percent in government jobs.

The decision of the High Court was based on the 11-member fact-finding committee of the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) headed by Retired Justice GM Gaikwad, which surveyed 45,000 families of the entire Maratha population.

In May 2021, the Supreme Court of India struck down the decision of the high court that was taken under the light of the Maharashtra law, as it was crossing the set reservation percentage policy by the 1992 Indra Sawhney Mandal Judgment, which states that it should exceed the set ceiling of 50 percent.

The reservation given to the Maratha community by the state government exceeded 50 percent.

Since November 2022, the Maratha community has benefited from the 10 percent quota for Economically Weaker Sections, until the matter is resolved.

The SC in April this year also turned down the Maharashtra government’s review plea on the Maratha quota. For now, the state government is supposed to file a curative petition, but they have yet to file it.

The Opposition

The agitation going on which also turned violent resulted in protestors putting the house of MLA Solanki on fire. But the opposition political party leaders seem to be hanging on the wall unable to decide which side to land.

While some of them seem to support the Maratha Quota cause others are resigning from their present political positions.

It is worth noting that all this reshuffle is happening a few months before the assembly elections in Maharashtra.

Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has expressed dismay at the series of events and said that the protest is going on in the wrong direction and it should now concern Patil of what the protest has now turned out to be, ANI reported.

Shide said, “It is going in the wrong direction, those involved in the violence should also keep in mind that it also harms the Maratha society, and their families will also suffer due to it.”

The Nationalist Congress Party MP Supriya Sule has also reacted to the incident and described it as a “complete failure” of the state of the home minister.

She said, “Today, an MLA’s house is set on fire, what is the home minister doing? It is their responsibility.”

Hemant Patil, a Shiv Sena leader on Sunday said that he is resigning as an MP and extending his support to the Maratha Quota agitation, The Indian Express reported.

Patil has also written a letter to the Lok Sabha Speaker voicing his support for Maratha Reservation, “The issue of the Maratha Community in Maharashtra has been pending for many years. The sentiments of the community are very strong on the issue. I have been actively fighting for the Maratha community for many years”, the latter reads.

Patil was allegedly seen at the protest in the Yavatmal district and also said that his resignation could get the reservation for the Marathas, he would do that.

A Bharatiya Janta Party leader and an MP, Sudhakar Sharngare from Latur also lent his support to Maratha Quota and wrote a letter to Shinde, expressing solidarity.

At Present

Jarange Patil remained on his demand even on Monday, entering the sixth day of his continued hunger strike. He also warned the Shinde Government of facing consequences if it did nothing to grant reservation to the Martha Community. The protest is expected to stir up further in the coming days.

Chief Minister Shinde has expressed concern about Patil’s health and suggested he take this movement in a more mature manner, reports suggest.

Locals say that Jarange Patil has huge support behind him as he has emerged as the face of the Maratha quota movement in the last 2 months. He is also expected to contest elections. However, Jarange Patil or the Martha community has not mentioned it so far.

The Maratha Community has put up a ban on the entry of politicians across villages in Maharashtra at the protest site at Antarwali Sarathi village in Jalna district of Maharashtra, Maktoob was informed.

Meanwhile, the Shinde government on Monday formed a board of 3 retired judges to look into Maratha Quota protests and a reservation sub-committee will also meet activist Jarange Patil on Tuesday to convince him to strike off the hunger protest.

The same board of judges will also suggest and help the state government to file a curative petition that has to be filed in the Supreme Court.

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