Mumbai: All political parties in Maharashtra have decided that the local body elections can be delayed until the state backward commission gathers empirical data on Other Backward Classes (OBC), and the state government is able to restore political reservation for the community in the polls.
All major political parties of Maharashtra attended an all-party meeting convened by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray Friday to discuss the way forward after the Supreme Court in May struck down political quotas for the OBCs in local bodies, saying it was crossing the 50 per cent cap. One such meeting was also held last week.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, an OBC leader, said, “We are trying to get empirical data from the Centre and are also thinking if we can gather empirical data as sample data. We have decided, while gathering the data even if it takes a couple of months more than expected, we should postpone upcoming local elections.”
The unanimity among parties to push back polls if needed comes amid impending elections to 10 municipal corporations, including in major civic bodies in Mumbai, Pune, Thane, Nashik and Nagpur, in February-March 2022. More civic elections to corporations and several municipal councils are expected later next year.
The OBCs comprise 52 per cent of Maharashtra’s population and include 382 castes. While they don’t vote for any party as a community, no party can afford to annoy the OBCs.
The BJP wants to make amends with the OBCs after having snubbed community leaders like Pankaja Munde and Eknath Khadse. The Shiv Sena needs the community to increase its strength in Maharashtra, while the Congress and NCP want to shed their ‘Maratha party’ tag.
Moreover, leaders from across parties say, when every party has emphatically supported the Maratha quota demand, not showing the same urgency for the OBCs will be a political risk.
“The BJP has got a significant share of OBC votes in the past two elections, but if the MVA parties stay together, the alliance too can stand to gain with the Shiv Sena, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) consolidating their OBC votes,” political commentator Pratap Asbe told ThePrint.
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BJP trying to strengthen OBC base
The BJP staged several protests between June and July against the MVA government for allegedly not acting in a timely manner to defend the OBC reservation in local body elections in the Supreme Court.
“The most important thing is, what we are thinking about today is exactly what the Supreme Court had first said on 13 December 2019,” said opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis after the all-party meeting Friday.
“If we had done it then, neither would the court have ruled against it (the OBC political reservation) and we wouldn’t have been in this situation. But, even if we are doing it 20-21 months later, we can still save the OBC seats. But, it is clear that there has been a major delay.”
For the BJP in Maharashtra, the OBC community has been important since the 1980s, when the party actively started trying to reach out to the community by promoting leaders such as Gopinath Munde. The party was trying to capitalise on the political disillusionment the OBCs felt with the Congress, which was seen as a Maratha-centric party.
BJP leaders were, however, worried that Fadnavis’ Brahmin background and the BJP-led government’s move to grant reservation to the Maratha community after facing a wave of Maratha protests may distance the OBCs.
Moreover, as Fadnavis’ hold on the Maharashtra unit of the BJP tightened, there was resentment among old-timers as the former CM created his own team.
Among those who felt distanced were Munde and Khadse, two prominent OBC leaders. Khadse quit the party in October 2020 to join the NCP.
Fadnavis has been trying to mend fences with the OBC community by being the face of the BJP’s protests against the MVA government on the quota issue. In June, while speaking to reporters on the issue, Fadnavis had said, “If the MVA government can’t give justice to the OBCs, hand over the government to us. I promise we will ensure an OBC quota within four months. If I fail, I will take political sanyas forever.”
The BJP’s decision to pick Bhagwat Karad and Kapil Patil from Maharashtra as junior ministers in the Union cabinet is also seen as a move to appease OBCs. Karad is a Vanjari like the Mundes, while Patil is from the Agri community, and their selection helps the BJP show that it is building a new rung of OBC leaders.
Congress, NCP want to shed ‘Maratha party’ tag
The Congress and NCP, which have traditionally been perceived to be Maratha dominant parties, want to shed the tag to fight the BJP, which has rapidly expanded in Maharashtra over the past decade.
A senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be named, said the party as well as the NCP have been trying to take advantage of the resentment within the OBC community against the BJP for allowing leaders such as Munde and Khadse to be sidelined.
“The Congress has appointed Nana Patole, an OBC leader, as state president. The NCP has promoted leaders such as Dhananjay Munde and Jitendra Awhad and inducted Khadse. But, we have also made mistakes such as removing Patole from the constitutional post of a speaker in the first place or denying re-nomination to Manikrao Thakre (an OBC leader) to the upper house (in 2018),” the senior Congress leader said.
“We can’t afford to antagonise the OBC community any further.”
In the Shiv Sena, leaders such as Bhujbal and Ganesh Naik, who both quit the party in the 1990s, created a base among the OBCs. However, currently, the party does not have any tall mass OBC leader.
“As long as the Shiv Sena was with the BJP, it benefitted from the latter’s OBC following. Now, the Sena is seen as close to the NCP and Sharad Pawar who is known as a Maratha strongman. So, the party needs to make overtures to the OBC community,” political analyst Hemant Desai told ThePrint.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
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