State scan: Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis up against Maratha challenge

To placate Marathas, Devendra Fadnavis asserted that his government favoured quota for the community, but pressure for an early resolution is mounting on him. Photo: PTI
There is talk that when the Maratha reservation agitation turned violent more than a fortnight ago, BJP President Amit Shah rang Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, asking him to ensure that no police firing took place while dealing with the situation.

There is no way to confirm this, but the way the embattled chief minister is facing the first major crisis in his nearly four-year-old government signals caution.

With his statements on the issue creating controversy some time ago, Fadnavis has turned humble. When violence broke out, he initially appeared to be out of his depth in facing the biggest challenge to his government. But he soon composed himself and is now conveying the impression that he and his government have been sincerely trying to give a fair deal to the Marathas and, for that, he needs time because the processes involved are time-consuming.

The refrain of Fadnavis is that the state government is favourable to the idea of reservation. And since the government has to give reservation in such a way that it stands legal scrutiny, the matter is taking time.

What he is implying is that so far attempts to provide reservation to dominant communities have been struck down by courts, and a fool-proof method needs to be evolved so that it could address the problem of the “have nots” among the Marathas.

With virtually no help from the opposition or the Shiv Sena, the BJP’s sulking ally, Fadnavis is trying to turn the crisis into an opportunity by seeking to reach out to the Maratha community every which way. The isolation of the BJP is clearly visible.

The chief minister has held a meeting of Maratha intellectuals, including artists. The meeting came up with an appeal for calm. It is another matter that many of them skipped the meeting, apparently to avoid controversy in the charged atmosphere.

In a meeting of the BJP MLAs, the chief minister gave the mantra of reaching out to the people.

The silence of the prime minister on the issue so far is a signal that the BJP high command, as also the Centre, is rattled by the violence. At the same time, it meant that the chief minister has the backing of his bosses in New Delhi. 

In political circles, Fadnavis is regarded as one of the best chief ministers of the ruling party and that is why he is generally relied upon to address the state’s issues. But the Shiv Sena has demanded the chief minister quit. There are others who say it in different ways.

At the same time, it is a fact that any resolution planned by the state government would have to get not only the Centre’s nod but Parliament’s approval too because reservation for the Marathas cannot be implemented without an amendment to the Constitution. That is the difficult part.

Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar’s statement demanding an amendment to the Constitution to include the Marathas and some other communities in the quota by raising the limit of reservation from the present 50 per cent has not helped matters for the chief minister.

The Maratha strongman’s promise to the community to talk to other parties in Parliament in an apparent attempt to convince them of the need to raise the limit is seen as an attempt to fish in troubled waters. BJP leaders ask in private why Pawar did not do so when the UPA was in power.

“The trouble is that there is no one leader among the agitators and if anyone comes forward to talk to the government, he is disowned by organisations carrying on the agitation,” a BJP leader said, signalling that the “invisible” leadership of the Marathas is getting ammunition from the opposition.

A Union minister said the way the Marathas were getting united had sent a clear message to the non-Marathas, who would back the BJP. He said in Haryana too the Jat agitation had helped the non-Jats consolidate behind the ruling party.

When the BJP-led government came to power in October 2014, it ensured the passage of a Bill on 16 per cent reservation for the Marathas. It was challenged in court and is now sub-judice.

The ball is at present with the state Backward Classes Commission, which is burning the midnight oil to prepare the report on the issue of Maratha reservation. But this may take at least three months.

The timing of the Maratha agitation suits the opposition fine. A Congress-NCP alliance is on the cards in Maharashtra. The two parties are known to have the largest support base among the Marathas.

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