Chief Minister Eknath Shinde meets Manoj Jarange Patil, who was on hunger strike for the Maratha reservation in Antarwali Sarati village. File pic/PTI
Social reservation is the flavour of the pre-poll season. The Marathas want their scrapped quota to be restored or else included in the Other Backward Classes. As the Maratha agitation in Marathwada subsided after the chief minister's intervention, the aggrieved OBCs intensified their protest that ended on Saturday in Chandrapur, following assurances from the government that their share would remain intact. This column had hinted a month ago that a Maratha versus OBC clash was in the offing for politicians to take advantage of.
In addition, the Dhangars have been demanding nomadic tribe status. The existing caste groups in the NT category oppose it vehemently. The Dhangar agitation was also brought to an end, after promising all possible remedies. However, the truce called by the Maratha protesters and others is temporary. In the interim, the state rulers are gasping for breath and struggling to find resolutions that could sustain the legal scrutiny. Parties in the government and outside it have been assessing the political impact of the Marathas versus OBCs clash, and the unrest in the other demanding castes, ahead of the polls. The Bharatiya Janata Party that traditionally has been getting the support of the OBCs, would surely not want to displease the Maratha community - which is the largest in Maharashtra - that will vote in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, simultaneously if the two elections are clubbed together in the summer or winter next year.
Before the 2019 elections, the situation was entirely different, particularly in the case of Marathas, who were granted an independent quota. Dynamics changed after the Supreme Court scrapped the quota and the matter became complicated as the party that had given Marathas an independent quota returned in the government headed by a Maratha leader, Eknath Shinde. Another Maratha, Ajit Pawar, joined the forces this year. Both leaders have to ensure that their community gets placated; at least to make it feel that they are with the community. It was out of this concern that Pawar crossed his party colleague and OBC leader, Chhagan Bhujbal, who at the OBC delegation's meeting with the CM and Dy CMs, insisted that the number of Marathas in the government service were much higher than the OBCs. Pawar asked Bhujbal to produce documentary evidence to substantiate the claim.
The skirmish, which Bhujbal played down later, showed that the leaders owing allegiance to certain sections could spar in public to prove the protection of their respective vote banks. It's not just Pawar or Bhujbal. Almost every political leader has his/her own branding of caste. They clash when their interests overlap, notwithstanding their political allegiance. In Mumbai, the caste factor may not be as effective as in the non-urban areas, but it is also established that the metro's politics depends on factors such as the language, regionalism, ethnicity and religion. Cosmopolitan is just a garb, all socio-political tricks that attract votes are applied in abundance in Mumbai. A concern for reservation doesn't spare anyone, be it a villager or a Mumbaikar.
The disqualification of the Shiv Sena MLAs has reached the Supreme Court again. The Thackeray faction has filed an application in the Apex Court raising a strong objection to Speaker Rahul Narwekar's scheduling of the matter over 50 days, beginning the first week of October. The faction fears that the decision, which the SC wanted to be delivered in reasonable time, might not come this year. It has accused the Speaker of delaying the verdict and sought directions from the SC, which is expected to handle the plea on Tuesday. Who reigns supreme? Time will tell.
The grapevine says that all is not so well in the tripartite government. The Shinde group is said to be increasingly wary of Ajit Pawar's dominance. The moves, passive and active, the two allies of the BJP have been making, give credence to the talk of a cold war. The Shinde group has won its case in the Election Commission and has now pinned hopes on a favourable outcome in the matter before the Speaker. And yet, the sword has been hanging over their heads. The Ajit Pawar faction will soon face the EC and it expects a Shinde-like verdict. The people in the know say that the hearing in the EC was expected to prolong because of the forthcoming five-state Assembly polls, and later the Lok Sabha elections. The Thackeray Sena has been saying that the Shinde group too is expecting a similar delay in its matter before the Maharashtra Speaker. The real concern is that the case will not exist once the current house gets dissolved ahead of the Assembly polls. The dissolution might get advanced if the Assembly and the Lok Sabha polls are held together.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore
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