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Reservations for Marathas in Maharashtra

The Marathas, who have traditionally positioned themselves as a warrioragriculturist caste, have a stranglehold on Maharashtra's political leadership and have always opposed reservations. But the declining returns from agriculture, the desire to take advantage of the postglobalisation boom in the services and knowledge-based sector and apprehension at the perceived rise of the other backward castes on the political ladder have led the community to demand inclusion in the Other Backward Classes category.

COMMENTARYapril 4, 2009 vol xliv no 14 EPW Economic & Political Weekly10Reservations for Marathas in MaharashtraMridul KumarThe Marathas, who have traditionally positioned themselves as a warrior-agriculturist caste, have a stranglehold on Maharashtra’s political leadership and have always opposed reservations. But the declining returns from agriculture, the desire to take advantage of the post-globalisation boom in the services and knowledge-based sector and apprehension at the perceived rise of the other backward castes on the political ladder have led the community to demand inclusion in the Other Backward Classes category.Over the past few months, Mahar-ashtra has witnessed a number of agitations demanding reserva-tions for the Maratha community under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) quota. After the state backward class commission headed by retired judge R M Bapat decided against the demand, the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) establish-ment, which until then had been making conciliatory noises in favour of this de-mand and promoting the agitators, showed much less enthusiasm for it. How-ever, the report has been kept in abeyance and the issue entrusted to the commission under a new chairperson. Angered at the demand not being accepted before the general elections, the militant Maratha re-vivalist organisations, one of which ironi-cally is led byNCP leader Vinayak Mete, have threatened to express their resent-ment with the Congress-NCP in the Lok Sabha polls. This has given rise to the impression that the ruling alliance is now finding it difficult to dismount thetiger.Changing CircumstancesHowever, it is necessary to understand why the community, which had once opposed caste-based reservations gene-rally, is now trying to seek it for itself. The demand for reservations in education, jobs and politics points to the community’s desire (it comprises around a third of the state’s population) to quit farming due to its unprofitability and instead seek careers in the services sector, secure guar-antees in government jobs and protect its political turf from an upwardly mobile OBC leadership. The Maratha-Kunbis are believed to have evolved as an agriculturist ksha-triya (warrior) caste with common pri-mordial loyalties, like the various other agriculturist castes laying claim to a warrior status. Earlier, the term “Maratha” was used to refer to all the inhabitants of Maharashtra as Mahatma Jotiba Phule had pointed out to those calling themselves “caste Marathas” (Nemade 2003). The up-per class Kunbis (tillers) organised them-selves as Marathas post-1911 (ibid). Com-munities like the Yadav Gawlis and the Maratha Malis had also staked their claim to the Maratha identity on the ground that the Maratha caste included “all the back-ward classes”. Some of these claims date back to the early 1920s (Jaffrelot 2003).After its warrior identity was forged, the community also played a major role in thebramhanetar(non-brahmin) move-ment which sought to end brahmin domi-nance over the socio-economic and politi-cal sectors in pre-independence Maha-rashtra. In 1902, the reformist king Chhat-rapati Shahu of Kolhapur, who had also joined Phule’s Satyashodhak Samaj, laid the foundation for reservations by intro-ducing 50% quotas in his kingdom for all communities except brahmins, Shenvis, Kayasthas and Parsis.The bramhanetar movement saw the emergence of the Maratha identity in a large section, which was not based just on opposition to brahmins, but on the identi-fication as kshatriyas or erstwhile rulers (Palshikar 1998).Post-independence, the Maratha com-munity has traditionally dominated poli-tics. A majority of the 16 chief ministers of the state, so far, have been Marathas, and the community has continued to be the leader of the non-brahmins giving limited opportunity to the other castes in this re-gard. It is noteworthy that none of the non-Maratha chief ministers except Vas-antrao Naik (1963-75), who belonged to the Banjara community and enjoyed the support of Yashwantrao Chavan, have completed their five-year term.Poor Returns from AgricultureThe Maratha-Kunbis are primarily depen-dent on agriculture. Though this is true of a majority of the state’s population that is dependent on agriculture, the growth of the primary agricultural sector has stag-nated in subsequent five-year plan periods and the per capita income of agriculturists is around a fourth of the state’s average.The views expressed herein are personal.Mridul Kumar ( is a political commentator.
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 4, 2009 vol xliv no 1411However, the decline in the agriculture sector is made clear by the spate of farmer suicides in the erstwhile prosperous cot-ton and sugar cane belts, which in a nut-shell can be attributed to absence of remunerative pricing, indebtedness, in-adequate irrigation, crop failures and lack ofcredit delivery. The decline in the plan outlay in agriculture and allied sectors, which fell from 14.9% in the First Five-year Plan to 5.8% in the Sixth Plan and finally to 5.2% in the previous Tenth Plan, coupled with declining investment in agriculture from 1.6% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1993-94 to 1.3% in 2000-01, have also contributedtothe agrarian distress (TISS 2005).State government figures reveal that fragmentation of agricultural land has increased with the number of operational landholdings going up from 49 lakh in 1970-71 (including 21.20 lakh – 43% – small and marginal farmers) to 121 lakh in 2000-01, with 88.86 lakh marginal hold-ings (73%), which coupled with rising in-put costs has made farming unviable. The per hectare yield of 924 kg is also far below the national average of 1,716 kg (Economic Survey of Maharashtra 2007-08). Almost one-third of the state falls in the rain sha-dow region and the proportion of irrigated to the cropped area is 17% as compared to the national average of 43%. The Maratha-Kunbi community, which has shown lack of occupational flexibility, unlike theOBCs, brahmins and Muslims, is perhaps the worst hit due to the situation. It has lost out on employment guarantees in the sectors dominated by the communi-ty like the cooperatives, which are marred by losses and financial mismanagement; and in the government and local bodies in the post-globalisation era and post-Mandal era, where there is a freeze on recruitment in most establishments and the quantum of reservations has increased.The growth in the service and tertiary sectors, which call for a particular level of education and skills has also been accom-panied by a corresponding decline in the primary and manufacturing sectors, where blue-collar workers could be accommodated. The sectoral composition of the state in-come also reveals that the share of the primary sector has declined from 31% in 1960-61 to 21% in 1990-91 and 14.9% in 2006-07 while figures for the secondary and tertiary sectors were 23%, 32% and 26% and 46%, 47% and 59.2%, respecti-vely, signifying the steady decline in share of the primary sector and rapid increase of the tertiary sector. This has also caused lopsided development. The preference given to industrial interests over the con-cerns of the agriculturists by the estab-lished Maratha leadership which domi-nates state politics to industrial interests over the concerns of agriculturists is also responsible for the situation. The urban areas, which cover 42.8% of the state, are also becoming more inhospitable to the poor and the middle class due to a gradual rise in the cost of living.The Maratha leadership is now de-manding that the community get reserva-tions in education so that the younger generation can ride the crest of what is perceived to be the knowledge economy in the post-globalisation era. Reservations in jobs will also entitle them to employ-ment guarantees, though Marathas large-ly dominate the lower and middle level bureaucracy in the state. The Biggest Slavery?This contention is further strengthened by the fact as Puroshattam Khedekar, who heads the Maratha Sewa Sangh (MSS), which is in the forefront of the agitation demanding reservations, points out that agriculture does not enjoy much dignity in India. He is in favour of agriculturists making way for special economic zones (SEZs) and claims that it is necessary to re-duce the pressures on agriculture and transform the farmer into a “rich entre-preneur” (Khedekar 2008).Khedekar (ibid)says: Instead of living like animals and insects start SEZs. Stop farming. Sell your land at high prices. Start life afresh near cities... It is said that the place of the East India Compa-ny will be appropriated bySEZs... How does it make a difference to us?Slavesonlysee their masters change. In India, agriculture is the biggest slavery. The rise of such organisations point to the failure of the established Maratha leader-ship tocater to the small and marginal farmer and the urban unemployed youth. The established Maratha leadership is, in turn, seeking to co-opt these elements by pandering to them. These Maratha radical organisations draw their support base from this constituency (parallels can be drawn to the shift in the MarathaandOBC youth towards the Shiv Sena in Mumbai after the decline of textile mills), and this also shows the lack of opportunity in established political parties for new leadership and lack of upward mobility for grass root political workers, who are now seeking other avenues for social mobility. A gradual process of lumpenisation has set in due to the lack of any organised mass movements, almost all of which have been significantly weakened or finished off by the system.The Marathas have traditionally domi-nated Maharashtra’s politics on the strength of their numbers, and OBC lead-ers opposed to their demand for reserva-tion claim that of the 2,430 legislators in the state from 1962 to 2004, 1,336 (55%) were Marathas. Maharashtra has 54 con-stituencies where no non-MarathaMLA has been elected till date, and the commu-nity dominates the cooperatives, district banks and educational institutions.However, Indira Gandhi’s poor treatment of the established Maratha leadership, herdecision to prop up a Muslim (Abdul Rehman Antulay) or Marathas without much of a mass base like Shankarrao Chavan and Babasaheb Bhosale as chief ministers forced them to look for other political op-tionsatthe local level like the Shetkari Sanghatana, Congress(S) and the Shiv Sena. It is claimed that the revivalist Maratha Mahasangh’s formation and subsequent political posturing was in retaliation to Antulay becoming the chief minister. Moreover, the bahujan idiom was effective only until the Maratha leadership could accommodate the non-Marathas and dalits in the political process. But, the dominat-ing attitude adopted bythecommunity towards other castes led these groups to seek other political affiliationswherever possible, thus exposing the chinks in the Maratha leadership (Palshikar 1998). Loosening HoldThe hold of the Maratha leadership on the state’s politics has been affected to some extent by the political reservations for OBCs in the local government bodies, which were earlier used to accommodate the Marathas. The post-Mandal era has also seen a rise in political awareness

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