MUMBAI: The Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday to strike down the politically sensitive Maratha quota legislation in Maharashtra has prompted the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and the BJP to point fingers at each other in trying to deflect the heat off themselves.
While the BJP has attributed the court’s quashing of the quota law to lack of coordination by the MVA in representing the state’s side, the ruling coalition — comprising the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress — has lobbed the ball in the Centre’s court, urging the Union government to take a decision.
The Supreme Court Wednesday declared the Maratha quota in Maharashtra, set up under the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act of 2018, as “unconstitutional”, and rejected the findings of the Justice NG Gaikwad Commission, on the basis of which the law was enacted. The court said there were no exceptional circumstances to breach the 50 per cent cap on reservations.
The Marathas, who comprise about 32 per cent of the state’s population, have been demanding reservation for several years. The community had organised 58 silent, non-political protests for two years, starting in 2016. The demonstrations took a violent turn in late 2018, even taking the form of an anti-Fadnavis stir at one point. Eventually, the Maharashtra legislature unanimously accepted the Gaikwad Commission report and passed the Maratha quota law on 30 November 2018, when BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis was CM. Under the BJP-Shiv Sena rule, the law also withstood the scrutiny of the Bombay High Court.
Politically, the Maratha community does not vote as a block, but politicians fear that antagonising such a large percentage of the population may galvanise the community to vote against a certain party.
The MVA, BJP blame game
The MVA is citing the Supreme Court’s reference to the 102nd constitutional amendment, which the ruling alliance claims has taken away the states’ right to implement reservations and declare communities as backward.
Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray in a statement Wednesday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind to take a speedy decision on the Maratha quota issue.
“The Supreme Court saying that the right to take a decision on reservation is not with the state, but with the Centre and the President, was in a way a guidance to Chhatrapati Shivaji’s Maharashtra. Now we are appealing with folded hands to the PM and President to take a speedy decision on the Maratha quota,” CM Thackeray said.
He added that the Centre has shown fairness in law by taking swift decisions in the Shah Bano case, the Atrocities Act and the scrapping of Article 370, and for these it has even made constitutional changes wherever needed. “Now the same speed should be shown in case of the Maratha quota,” Thackeray said.
Congress Minister Ashok Chavan, who heads the state’s panel on the Maratha quota issue, blamed quashing of the law on Fadnavis.
Chavan said, the 102nd constitutional amendment was passed in August 2018. “On 15 November, 2018, the Gaikwad committee presented its report. Based on that report, both houses of the state legislature, without any discussion, approved the Maratha quota law on 30 November, 2018,” Chavan, who himself belongs to the Maratha community, said at a press interaction on behalf of the MVA.
“Now the Supreme Court has said that states don’t have these rights to decide on backwardness of a community after the 102nd constitutional amendment. So basically back then, Fadnavis misled the assembly and today he is duping people,” he said.
Fadnavis, meanwhile, demanded that the state government now form a committee of judges to understand the shortcomings, prepare a report and put it before all political parties.
“We have to now prepare a proper strategy and move forward,” the former CM said, while slamming the way the MVA presented its case before the apex court as shoddy.
Speaking to reporters, Fadnavis said, “We could see lack of coordination in the way the current government put forth the state’s side. Several times, lawyers had to say they haven’t got information or instructions yet. Due to this the case was adjourned a couple of times and overall a lack of coordination could be seen on a large scale.”
“Order puts MVA in a bind”
Political analyst Hemant Desai said, the Supreme Court order has definitely put the MVA in a bind at a time when the state government is anyway struggling to contain the Covid pandemic.
“If this sparks another round of agitations within the Maratha community and there are violent, adverse incidents, it will create a negative atmosphere for the MVA. This is why the MVA is trying to show that the issue is not the state government’s responsibility anymore. We will have to see how the BJP capitalises on the judgement to drive the Marathas away from MVA parties,” Desai said.
While the three-party MVA will be compelled to placate the Maratha community by welfare schemes, scholarships and financial aid, this too will be tough due to the delicate condition of state finances and expenditure cuts to fight Covid, he added.
(Edited by Priyanjali Mitra)