BJP ‘to prod’ Maratha community leaders to act against Uddhav govt after SC scraps quota

Devendra Fadnavis during a press conference at BJP head office in Mumbai | PTI File Photo

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Mumbai: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra is prodding the Maratha community to act against the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government after the apex court struck down the politically sensitive Maratha quota legislation earlier this month.

The BJP’s state unit has designated a handful of its senior leaders to tour different districts of Maharashtra with a significant Maratha population. These leaders have been instructed to stay in these districts for at least two days, and travel from village to village, holding one-on-one meetings with local leaders from the Maratha community who participated in the wave of Maratha protests, multiple party leaders told ThePrint.

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 between 2016 and 2018 when the BJP was in power.

The demonstrations took a violent turn in late 2018, even taking the form of an anti-Devendra Fadnavis stir at one point.

“We will explain the facts to the local Maratha population through these visits. Connecting with these local leaders directly will help the BJP in laying the ground for agitations against the MVA government on the Maratha quota issue. Once the lockdown (enforced due to the pandemic) lifts, we will support these leaders in organising protests in different districts,” a senior BJP leader said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, BJP Maharashtra president Chandrakant Patil Thursday told reporters in Kolhapur, “If the Maratha community fails to get on the streets and stage agitations for reservation now, it will be late.”

The Maharashtra legislature unanimously accepted the findings of the Justice N.G. Gaikwad Commission, set up when Fadnavis was the CM, and passed the Maratha quota law on 30 November 2018. Under the BJP-Shiv Sena rule, the law, which granted the Maratha community a 12 per cent reservation in education and 13 per cent in government jobs, also withstood the scrutiny of the Bombay High Court.

However, the Supreme Court earlier this month declared the reservation as “unconstitutional”, and rejected the findings of the Gaikwad panel, on the basis of which the law was enacted.

The top court said there were no exceptional circumstances to breach the 50 per cent cap on reservations.

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BJP leaders to canvass on ground

The party has designated leaders such as Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar, Ashish Shelar, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, Pravin Darekar, Prasad Lad, Narayan Rane, Harshwardhan Patil, and Ravindra Chavan to tour different parts of the state.

Nilangekar and Shelar will cover the various districts in Marathwada, the region with the most significant Maratha population; Darekar, Chavan and Lad will cover the Konkan region; Harshwardhan Patil and Vikhe Patil will travel in different districts of western Maharashtra; Rane will cover the Maratha population in the districts of Thane and Pune; while BJP state president Chandrakant Patil will meet Maratha leaders in his residential district of Kolhapur. Most of these leaders are still finalising their travel plans.

The leaders are expected to highlight how it was during Fadnavis’ tenure as CM that the Maratha quota law was passed, and how he created an airtight legislation after careful consideration that could withstand the Bombay High Court’s scrutiny.

They will focus on the failure of the three parties that comprise the MVA government — the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress — to make this legislation stand in the Supreme Court.

“The BJP is standing with the Maratha community with all its strength and power,” said BJP leader and MLC Prasad Lad, who is scheduled to travel to Ratnagiri from 28 to 30 May.

“Our job is to meet leaders of the Maratha community and explain the factual situation to them — how Devendra ji worked on making a watertight case for Maratha reservations, the different committees that were set up, how the BJP government set up the Gaikwad committee, gave it all the necessary support in terms of manpower, lawyers…” said Lad.

“There were four committees set up before the Gaikwad committee when the Congress-NCP government was in power, but it went nowhere. We argued the case for a Maratha quota well in the Bombay High Court and even in the Supreme Court when Devendra ji was the CM. The apex court did not stay the quota at that time. So, what changed after this government came to power?” he added.

Shelar told ThePrint, “The idea is to meet locals from the Maratha community, activists, thinkers, journalists, inform them about the facts, convey the BJP’s position and understand what is going on in their minds.”

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The 102nd constitutional amendment

After the Supreme Court judgment, the MVA government lobbed the ball in the Centre’s court to enact a Maratha quota legislation, citing the court’s reference to the 102nd constitutional amendment.

The MVA claims that the amendment has taken away the states’ right to implement reservations and declare communities as backward.

“We will explain to the Maratha community leaders how the 102nd constitutional amendment does not let the MVA government off the hook. The Centre has argued that the amendment does not limit states’ power to list castes as backward,” said Lad.

“Only 1-2 per cent of the Marathas belong to the creamy layer, the rest are poor with small landholdings, and struggle to get good education and jobs. The Gaikwad Committee put in a lot of work to establish that, but the MVA couldn’t convey it properly to its lawyers and the judges,” he added.

The BJP-led government at the Centre has been hesitant to act on the Maratha quota legislation fearing it will open a Pandora’s box for similar demands from other states.

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