With an eye on upcoming assembly elections after the drubbing in Lok Sabha polls, Maharashtra's Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government will take a decision next week on the Rane committee's recommendation for 20 per cent quota for Marathas in government jobs and educational institutions.
"We will make an announcement after June 20," Industry Minister Narayan Rane, who heads the special committee to study the socio-economic conditions of the Maratha community, told the legislative council on Friday while replying to a discussion on the issue.
The move has been opposed by Other Backward Classes, who apprehend that quotas for politically powerful Maratha community would encroach upon reservations for the weaker sections. The committee has, however, said quotas for Marathas would be brought without touching existing reservation for the backward classes.
"The model code of conduct is in force till June 20. We would convene a cabinet meeting on June 21 and take a decision," Rane told reporters outside the house. June 20 is the date when the code of conduct for legislative council polls, in force in many parts of the state, ends.”
"We conducted a survey of five lakh families in all 35 districts and the Marathas were found socially, economically and educationally backward and so we have recommended 20 per cent reservation for them," Rane, himself an influential Maratha leader, said.
When asked whether the government would consider giving four per cent of the 20 per cent reservation proposed for Marathas to Muslims, who are also demanding quotas in jobs and education, the minister replied in the negative. "I don't think they are demanding any quota from within 20 per cent we have proposed for Marathas. If they are to get reservation, a separate legal arrangement will have to be made. The government is thinking about it," he said.
State assembly elections are due in October and many in the ruling alliance have been insisting on quotas for Marathas to be brought before the model code kicks in.
The Congress-NCP alliance was left badly battered in the Lok Sabha elections with their joint tally at an all-time low of six. The 'Mahayuti', a grand alliance of five parties led by Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena, clinched 42 of state's 48 seats.
Reservation already exists among OBCs for a section of Marathas, known as Kunbis. Maratha Kunbis, who are largely agriculturists, constitute 31.5 per cent of the population with a large presence in Vidarbha and Konkan regions.
Some leaders of Maratha community have been demanding a decision on the contentious issue before the assembly elections. Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, descendent of Maratha king Shivaji who is leading Maratha Aarakshan Mahamorcha, an umbrella group of 23 organisations demanding reservation, has issued an ultimatum to the state government.
"Maratha communities had not taken any stand to support or oppose the NCP-Congress in Lok Sabha elections. If the Maratha quota is not announced, we will take an anti-government stand in assembly polls," he warned.
Some prominent Maratha leaders such as Vinayak Mete have already deserted THE NCP and joined the opposition 'Mahayuti' alliance, which has assured it would consider demands of the Maratha community.
As of now, a total 356 backward castes get 19 per cent reservation, 51 scheduled castes and tribes get 11 per cent and 11 other castes in the special backward category 2 per cent in the state. Meanwhile, the BJP, keen on not allowing the ruling alliance to take all credit for Maratha reservation, has threatened to launch an agitation if the government failed to deliver on quota for the community.
"We have made it clear to the government in the house that if it fails to ensure reservation for the Maratha community, 'Mahayuti' will launch a big agitation for which the blame will rest on the government," leader of opposition in the legislative council Vinod Tawde said.