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ET EDIT-When the Forward Wish to be Backward Dynamic economy is the cure for quota demands

July 13, 2019 06:18 AM


When the Forward Wish to be Backward
Dynamic economy is the cure for quota demands
On Friday, a Supreme Court bench refused to stay a Bombay High Court order that upheld classification by the government of Marathas as a ‘socially and economically backward’ community. The high court had recommended 12-13% quotas for Marathas in the state sector. This is ridiculous. For 400 years, Marathas have been one of the most powerful communities in west-central India: landed, warlike, wealthy and politically powerful. Shivaji forged the Maratha identity in the 17th century, but the community is also powerful outside Maharashtra, including the Holkars of Indore, Scindias of Gwalior and Gaekwads of Baroda. They occupy 20% of all government jobs in Maharashtra, dominate the sugar sector, cooperative banking and private education. Since 1960, 11 of 18 chief ministers, including Yashwantrao Chavan, Vilasrao Deshmukh and the redoubtable Sharad Pawar, have been Maratha. Most have held important portfolios at the Centre.

The high court judgment is a rehash of a report, published in November 2018, by a commission headed by M G Gaikwad. This report is a hodgepodge, conflating economic with social status, digging out obscure references to ‘prove’ Marathas originate from shudras in the varna system. However, early Maratha chronicles cite kshatriya origins and the Mandal Commission, correctly, classified them as a ‘forward caste’.

The Maratha demand for quotas follows similar demands from wealthy, economically and geographically mobile patidars in Gujarat, and the BJP government’s promise to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Class (OBC) status to six Assamese ethnic groups. This includes Ahoms, who ruled the region from 1228 to 1826, and continue to be powerful. That privileged classes now want quotas reflects mismatch between societal aspirations and opportunities for social mobility, particularly via diversified non-farm jobs. The solution is not to reserve higher proportions of a stagnant state sector, but to make sure education and employment opportunities grow faster than the potential workforce, and dispersed access to both.


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