'The problem lies in the popular perception that the Marathas are a rich, politically powerful and dominant caste in the state... The truth is different. The tragedy of this community is that only 137 Maratha families are the dominant players in state politics. The disparity is so wide, that the rest of the Maratha community isn't even half as rich, forget being powerful,' says N Suresh.
The Maharashtra government, as a parting shot before facing the assembly election in October, announced a new reservation quota -- 16 percent for Marathas and 5 percent for Muslims.
Before this announcement Maharashtra had 52 percent reservations, which had crossed the limit set at 50 percent by the Supreme Court. With these fresh reservations the total percentage of reservations in the state has gone up to 73 percent. A Public Interest Litigation has already been filed, claiming that the Marathas are not a poor and backward caste.
There seems to be no argument against the 5 percent reservations for Muslims, who most agree have a high population of poor and deprived people. The main controversy erupted over reservations for the Marathas.
The problem lies in the popular perception that the Marathas are a rich, politically powerful and dominant caste in the state. One can't blame anyone that such misconceptions have become popular. Most powerful politicians in the state belong to the Maratha community.
10 of Maharashtra's 17 chief ministers have been Marathas including the first CM, Yashwantrao Chavan. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan is a Maratha.
Since the birth of Maharashtra in 1960 a majority of legislators belong to the Maratha community. The community also controls educational institutions, developmental boards and 168 out of the 200 sugar cooperatives in the state. It is no surprise then that people tend to believe it is a rich and powerful community and do not need any reservation.
The truth is different. The tragedy of this community is that only 137 Maratha families are the dominant players in state politics. The disparity is so wide, that the rest of the Maratha community isn't even half as rich, forget being powerful.
The reason being that there are 96 clans and most are backward and poor. The Kunbis, known as poor tillers, form a large part of this community.
The problem within the Marathas is that Maratha politicians have failed their community. They failed to deliver the goods to the community and most of all include the poorest in the mainstream from early on.
As a result, Maratha politicians encounter growing bitterness and want to appease their community by announcing reservations for employment and education.
The politicians have hurriedly ignored the most pertinent issues, says political scholar Suhas Palshikar. 'It is clear that the social stratification and economic distress faced by the Marathas engaged in agriculture is unlikely to be meaningfully addressed merely by demanding OBC status for the community.'
We can't forget that Maharashtra is primarily an agrarian economy. Many agricultural peasants and small-time farmers have been reduced to labour, among them many clans of Marathas.
Instead of conducting proper studies to study the impact of reservations, which groups have benfitted and who really require it, the government has only made it more political.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who came to Maharashtra to clean up the Congress party and the government, was initially reluctant about the move, fearing legal problems. This policy of reservations has been announced to help the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party coalition try and avert a washout in the forthcoming assembly election.