More than a month into the agitation for reservations for the Marathas in Maharashtra, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde on Tuesday announced that caste certificates will be provided to those who have documents to prove that they are Kunbis – a sub-caste within the community who are already classified as Other Backward Classes.
For the rest of the community, data will be collected to gauge their backwardness, Shinde said.
The demand for a Maratha quota is contentious because of the community’s dominant status in Maharashtra.
A similar quota has already been struck down by the Supreme Court in 2021. But the demand cannot be ignored by Maharashtrian politicians because the community’s numbers makes it electorally crucial.
Despite its dominant status, experts say, there is a significant socioeconomic variation within the Maratha community.
How did the agitation start?
The Marathas have been demanding reservations in Maharashtra since 1981.
The new protests were sparked off on August 29, when Manoj Jarange-Patil, until now a little known Maratha leader, began a hunger strike in Antarwali Sarathe village of Jalna district.
His demand: blanket Kunbi status (and hence OBC status) for the entire Maratha community.
The agitation blew up on September 1 when the police fired tear gas shells and baton-charged protesters for allegedly stopping the authorities from shifting Jarange-Patil to hospital
This triggered an uproar, forcing an apology from Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. The government announced that a committee will submit a report within a month on whether Marathas from the Marathwada region can be issued Kunbi caste certificates.
Located in the eastern part of the state, Marathwada is an economically backward region that was once part of the Hyderabad princely state during colonial times.
On September 12, Jarange-Patil suspended the agitation, giving the government 40 days to meet his demands.
On October 25, he restarted his hunger strike citing the fact that the government, despite making assurances, had not made a formal announcement about implementing the quota.
As a concession to the agitation, on Wednesday, Chief Minister Shinde said that the government will issue Kunbi caste certificates to Marathas from Marathwada who were found to be belonging to the sub-caste, according to 11,530 old documents.
However, Jarange-Patil reiterated his demand for Kunbi status for all Marathas. He agreed to drink water, but said that he would not eat anything till the demand is met.
Why a quota demand?
The demand for Maratha reservation has long been contested due to their dominant status in Maharashtra. In 2021, the Supreme Court had held unconstitutional a separate quota for Marathas created by the previous BJP-Shiv Sena government, noting that there were no “exceptional circumstances” or an “extraordinary situation” in Maharashtra to justify breaching the 50% cap on reservations ordered by the court.
The court had also struck down findings of the Gaikwad Commission which had studied socio-economic parameters to recommend reservations for the Marathas.
Marathas, who account for more than 30% of Maharashtra’s population, own over 75% of the land in the state, 86 of the 105 sugar factories, and control the majority of educational institutions and cooperative bodies, according to a 2021 research paper by Professor Sumeet Mhaskar. Twelve of the 20 chief ministers of the state have been Marathas.
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