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Reservation for Marathas and Muslims in Maharashtra might backfire on Congress-NCP

Jun 27, 2014:The Times of India

The decision of the ruling Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra to accord 16% reservation for Marathas and 5% for Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions is a last-ditch attempt to woo these two categories of people following the parties' drubbing in Lok Sabha elections. With already existing 52% quotas for various other sections, reservation in jobs and schools and colleges in Maharashtra will go up to a staggering 73%. The Maharashtra cabinet's approval to the so-called affirmative action is fraught with social and political consequences, especially when quotas haven't proved to be the best means to correct historical inequalities.

 Instead of genuinely levelling social hierarchies and inequities, reservation programmes have narrow electoral objectives. Congress-NCP's resort to such patronage politics shows they are otherwise bereft of ideas on governance. In 2006, the Congress-led UPA-I regime pressed ahead with quota raj reserving 27% seats in colleges and universities for lower-caste and other economically disadvantaged groups, in addition to the 22.5% from V P Singh's Mandal experiment of the early 1990s. On a sticky electoral wicket, Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan now wants to brazen his way out by instituting a patently illegal measure in defiance of a Supreme Court judgment capping quotas at 50%.

 Reservations are a bogus way of assessing need. Constituting 32% of Maharashtra's population, the already privileged Marathas can by no means be classified as a minority community. They also have a stranglehold over the state's political leadership. Extending quotas for Muslims will lead to counter-polarisation among Hindus. A preferential system based on caste and religion does not serve a once valid social purpose. State governments should transition to programmes that lift all boats and provide a measure of affirmative action to groups based on economic criteria. Congress and NCP need to come up with new ideas on governance if they seek to make a comeback in assembly polls due later this year.

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