First test Dec 21, as MVA finds itself in a quandary over OBC quota

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While there is no recent data available on the total population of OBCs in Maharashtra, the Mandal Commission, based on the 1931 Census regarding which caste numbers were last counted, put their number at around 52% of Maharashtra’s population.

The immediate bearing will be felt in elections for 105 Nagar Panchayats in 32 districts and two zilla parishads, to be held on December 21.

There was a view in the MVA that the polls be deferred to avoid OBC ire, but the State Election Commission Tuesday announced the schedule for the elections barring that in 411 seats reserved for OBCs.

In Maharashtra, the OBCs are a disparate block of over 400 castes, and the BJP has been making inroads through leaders like Gopinath Munde. The party is believed to have swept the OBC vote in the 2014 Maharashtra Assembly elections. However, the Devendra Fadnavis government had alienated the other OBC groups with its decision in 2018 to grant 16% reservation in education and government jobs to the Marathas.

The MVA parties, which have been trying to woo back the OBCs, are trying to pass the buck to the Centre on the quota. Senior NCP leader and the OBC face of the party Chhagan Bhujbal, who is leading its campaign to woo OBCs, Tuesday said the Centre needs to be proactive in ensuring the reservation. “We have already urged the Supreme Court to direct the Centre to furnish the OBC data based on the 2011 Census, which is with the Centre,” Bhujbal said.

NCP MP Supriya Sule demanded that the Centre bring in a legislation to ensure reservation for OBCs. She tweeted, “Given that the Winter Session of the Parliament is going on, we demand that the Union Government brings legislation which must be debated during this session.”

The BJP, in turn, has accused the MVA government of not doing the work that was needed to ensure the Supreme Court cleared the quota. In a statement, Fadnavis said the court had noted that “it was inappropriate for the ordinance to be issued without the State Backward Classes Commission studying the situation in the urban local bodies and submitting its report”.

In its order on Monday, the Supreme Court said Maharashtra had failed to conduct an empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of backwardness qua local bodies, or to specify the proportion of reservation required to ensure that the total does not exceed 50%.

Maharashtra has so far not been able to provide contemporaneous empirical date to prove the nature and implications of backwardness of the OBCs, nine months after it set up a panel to collect this data.

Difficult as it may be to ensure reservation for the relatively better-off and politically powerful group, the OBC quota demand has been difficult to ignore for most political parties in the state.

It was back in 1994 that the Maharashtra government first reserved 27% seats for OBCs in local bodies, including all urban (municipal corporations, councils and nagar panchayats) and rural (zilla parishad, panchayat samiti and gram panchayat). In March this year, the Supreme Court struck this down, saying reservation for OBCs was only statutory unlike the constitutionally provided quota for SC/STs, and that the total quota should not exceed the 50% ceiling.

In September, the MVA government promulgated an ordinance to amend the Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961, and Maharashtra Village Panchayat Act for Zilla Parishads, Panchayat Samiti and Gram Panchayats, and provide OBC quota apart from reservations for SC/STs, within the 50% ceiling.



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