The mobilisation by Other Backward Classes (OBC) at Ambad, Jalna on Friday was addressed by leaders across party lines. However, the star of the show was Chhagan Bhujbal, the NCP (Ajit Pawar) leader and minister in the Eknath Shinde cabinet, who warned the government against giving in to the Maratha demand for OBC status. Bhujbal was egged on by others including Congress leader and the Leader of Opposition Vijay Wadettiwar to take leadership of an OBC counter-mobilisation against the Marathas. The Jalna meeting indicated that the state government’s strategy to contain the Maratha agitation is unravelling: It is embarrassing when a senior minister goes public against his own government’s policy.
The Marathas, estimated to be 33% of the Maharashtra population, are not a monolithic group. A large section of them, the Kunbis (a subcaste mostly of peasants), are classified as OBCs in Vidarbha, northern Maharashtra and Konkan. In a bid to bring all Marathas under the OBC umbrella without going through the onerous legal route, the Eknath Shinde government resolved that all Marathas who can prove themselves to be Kunbis in Western Maharashtra and Marathwada can also avail of reservations. Though a tortuous bureaucratic exercise, achieving OBC status through certification as Kunbi offers a way out for people demanding reservation. However, this could lead to a crowding of the OBC category and shrink the opportunities for communities currently enjoying reservations. Bhujbal has sought to fan this fear. The Shinde government has been forced into a corner as a 38% OBC bloc threatens to challenge the Marathas with its ministers talking in different voices.
Bhujbal’s rebellion represents a broader trend of a communitarian counter-response to an assertion by a dominant community. Political parties that fail to acknowledge its significance will have to pay a price. The BJP was early to recognise this and in states such as Uttar Pradesh, it reached out to non-dominant OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits successfully. It may be the turn of Maharashtra now.
Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription
Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics