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With poll looming, Maratha quota worries Gujarat

Virendra Pandit Gandhinagar | Updated on November 20, 2018 Published on November 20, 2018

Parallel drawn with Patidar demand

Unsure of the outcome of the ongoing Assembly elections in neighbouring saffron States of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, as also Chhattisgarh, a worried Vijay Rupani government is looking at the ‘Maratha model’ adopted recently by Maharashtra, from which Gujarat was carved out in 1960 and where the simmering Patidar quota agitation has been returning, time and again, to haunt it.

On Monday, Rupani said the State government had sought details from the BJP-ruled Maharashtra about its decision to provide reservation in government jobs and educational institutions to the Maratha community, in order to study if the Patidars could also be given a slice of the quota cake.

“We have asked for the survey reports and related data on the basis of which the Devendra Fadnavis government has taken this decision,” he said.

This becomes crucial as the BJP has only a few months — the next Lok Sabha elections are due in April 2019 — to keep its voter base intact. The Hardik Patel-led Patidar agitation, commenced in 2015, has haunted the BJP government in Gujarat ever since, and its tally in the Assembly elections of 2017 had drastically come down to 99 seats in a 182-member House for the first time since 1995.

In 2014, the saffron party had swept the Lok Sabha polls in MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra but it may not be so easy in 2019. Hence the revival of the quota cake.

Quota ceiling

So far, the Gujarat government has maintained that caste-based reservation cannot be provided to any new community, including the Patidars, beyond the 50 per cent quota set by the Supreme Court.

Reacting to the fresh development, Hardik wondered how Maharashtra, also ruled by the BJP, had taken a decision in respect of the Marathas if the reservation is not constitutionally possible in Gujarat.

Maharashtra is looking at the Marathas as a new ‘socially and educationally backward’ community, a tag rather difficult for Gujarat to paste on the Patidars, many among whom are seen as prosperous and influential, who have donated large sums to establish well-known educational institutions and even privately-run universities. It remains to be seen if Gujarat, too, creates a special category for the Patidars.

On Sunday, Maharashtra, facing the Maratha music after nearly 60 agitations in two years, created a special category, ‘Socially and Economically Backward Class (SEBC)’, but did not finalise the quantum of quota for them. Fadnavis said the Cabinet had cleared a decision to create this new category on the basis of the recommendations of the State Commission for Backward Classes, set up in 2016. The Maratha Kranti Morcha had demanded 16 per cent quota in a State where the community, minus the Kunbis, constitute nearly 30 per cent of the total population.

In Gujarat, the Patidars account for 13-15 per cent of the population.

Patidar factor

The Patidar agitation, which turned violent at times and even claimed a few lives, had taken a heavy toll on the BJP in Gujarat, where Anandiben Patel was replaced by Vijay Rupani as Chief Minister in 2016. She was subsequently packed off to Madhya Pradesh as Governor.

Interestingly, in 1981, the then Congress Chief Minister Madhavsinh Solanki had introduced reservation for the SEBC category in Gujarat, based on recommendations of the State-level Bakshi Commission. However, in the heat of the raging anti-reservation agitation then, the decision could not be implemented. In a bid to defuse the Patidar agitation, the Anandiben Patel government had even announced a new 10 per cent quota in jobs and college admissions for the Economically Backward Communities (EBCs) among the Upper Castes. A Non-Reserved Castes Welfare Commission was also formed.

Ceiling breached

The new quota for EBCs crossed the 50 per cent reservation limit set by the Supreme Court. Gujarat then had 48.5 per cent reservation, including 7.5 per cent for the Scheduled Tribes, 14 per cent for the Scheduled Castes and 27 per cent for OBCs.

But the Gujarat High court quashed the Ordinance providing fresh quota and termed it as “inappropriate and unconstitutional,” promulgated to pacify the agitating Patidars. The State government also moved the apex court which gave an interim direction to not allow fresh admissions and recruitment under the EBC reservation. Meanwhile, on October 4, the Ordinance for EBC reservation lapsed.

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Published on November 20, 2018
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