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General Studies 2 >> Polity

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1. Context
With Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in sight, the complex politics of Maratha reservation has once again taken the centre-stage in Maharashtra politics
2. Who are Marathas?
  • The Marathas are a group of castes comprising peasants and landowners among others constituting nearly 33 per cent of the state’s population
  • While most Marathas are Marathi-speaking, not all Marathi-speaking people belong to the Maratha community
  • This politically dominant community in state comprises nearly one-third of the population of the state
  • Historically, they have been identified as a ‘warrior’ caste with large land holdings
  • Since the formation of Maharashtra state in 1960, of its 20 chief ministers, 12 (including Eknath Shinde) have been from the Maratha community
  • While division of land and agrarian problems over the years have led to a decline of prosperity among middle class and lower middle-class Marathas, the community still plays an important role in the rural economy
3. Demand for reservation
  • Maratha reservation is a demand for reservation for the Maratha community in government jobs and educational institutions in Maharashtra, India.
  • The Maratha community is a large and influential community in Maharashtra, and they have been at the forefront of the Indian independence movement and other social movements. However, they argue that they are still socially and economically backward, and that they need reservation to improve their condition
  • In 2018, the Maharashtra government passed a law to provide 16% reservation to Marathas in government jobs and educational institutions.
  • However, the law was challenged in the Supreme Court, and in 2021, the Supreme Court struck down the law on the grounds that it violated the 50% ceiling on reservation set by the court in its 1992 Indra Sawhney (Mandal) judgment
  • The new Maharashtra government, which was formed in June 2023, has said that it is committed to providing reservation to Marathas. However, it is unclear how the government will achieve this goal without violating the Supreme Court's 50% ceiling on reservation
  • Some people argue that Marathas do not need reservation because they are not socially and economically backward.
  • They point to the fact that the Maratha community has produced many successful politicians, businessmen, and professionals. Others argue that Marathas do need reservation because they are still struggling to achieve equality with other communities.
  • They point to the fact that Marathas are overrepresented in manual labor and underrepresented in white-collar jobs.
4. Courts on Maratha reservation
  • The court heavily relied on the findings of the 11-member Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC) headed by Justice G M Gaikwad (retd). The commission surveyed nearly 45, 000 families from two villages from each of 355 talukas with more than 50 per cent Maratha population
  • The HC expressed satisfaction over the data and observed that the commission had conclusively established the social, economic and educational backwardness of the Maratha community.
  • It had also established inadequacy of representation of Maratha community in public employment in the state.
  • In May 2021, a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan struck down the provisions of Maharashtra law providing reservation to the Maratha community, which took the total quota in the state above the 50 per cent ceiling set by the court in its 1992 Indra Sawhney (Mandal) judgment.
  • In November 2022, after the SC upheld the 10 per cent quota for the Economically Weaker Sections, the state government said that until the issue of Maratha reservation is resolved, economically weaker members of the community can benefit from the EWS quota
5. Way forward
Nearly five years later, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who holds the important home portfolio, is once again the target of his opponents riding the Maratha quota politics. When MVA was in power (2019 to 2022), BJP also explored reservation issues to consolidate its base among Marathas. It yielded results, with BJP emerging as the number one party in local bodies elections
Source: indianexpress

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