Maratha quota, drought-like situation set alarm bells for govt

The drought-prone Marathwada region with eight Lok Sabha seats and 46 Assembly seats is crucial for the ruling BJP ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. However, with poor rain in the region coupled with the Maratha quota issue, the region is a cause of serious concern for the ruling coalition led by CM Eknath Shinde and Deputy CMs Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar.

The state government has convened a special cabinet meeting at Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar (earlier Aurangabad) in Marathwada region. The purpose of holding the cabinet meeting in the district is part of the government’s strategy to reassure people living in the backward region about its commitment to resolve their problems–social, political and economic.

A senior BJP minister requesting anonymity said, “The special cabinet meeting will focus on development model. The plan entails short and long term solutions to make Marathwada drought-free.”

The last cabinet meeting in Aurangabad was held in October 2016. The meeting was chaired by then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. At the end of a long meeting, Fadnavis had then announced a special package of Rs 49,248 crore for development of region. The major component of the package was for tackling water crisis through irrigation projects and water conservation. It also emphasised on road and rail connectivity within the region.

The striking similarity between then and now is that the ruling front is confronted with the same issues–Maratha reservation and drought.

Though CM Shinde has given assurance to include eligible Maratha-Kunbi people in OBC category, provided it is adequately backed with documentary proof, the issue is unlikely to be resolved soon.

Maratha activist Manoj Jarange-Patil has demanded that all Marathas should be entitled to Kunbi certificate and given OBC reservation.

With Lok Sabha polls scheduled in April-May 2024, the electoral outcome in Marathwada will be determined by how ruling parties tackle reservation and drought.

Out of 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state, Marathwada region accounts for eight. Of the total 288 seats in the Assembly, the region has 46 seats. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP bagged the highest Lok Sabha and Assembly seats in the region. Out of the eight Lok Sabha seats, BJP won four and its then alliance partner Shiv Sena (undivided) three and one seat went to AIMIM. Similarly, in the Assembly, out of 46 seats, BJP bagged 16 and its then Shiv Sena ally 12. The Congress and NCP won eight seats each and two went to Independents.

State BJP chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule said, “Whether it is reservation or farmers’ issue, the state government is sincerely working to provide solutions. It is committed to their welfare and well-being.”

He recalled how it was during the tenure of Fadnavis as CM (2014-2019), Maratha reservation was given under Socially and Educationally Backward Class. Unfortunately, Supreme Court struck it down. Under Shinde’s leadership, the reservation will be restored and concrete steps are being taken for the same, he said.

The BJP leader also pointed out how water conservation under Jalyukta Shivar Yojna was a massive drive undertaken (2014-2019) to tackle drought in Marathwada region. But the flagship project was scrapped during Maha Vikas Aghadi government in the 2.5 years. The BJP-led coalition has now embarked on the second phase of Jalyukta Shivar since last July.

Notwithstanding the promises and policies, poor rain is a reality in Marthwada. The districts in the region are Sambhajinagar (Aurangabad), Jalna, Beed, Dharashiv (Osmanabad), Latur, Hingoli, Nanded and Parbhani.

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A senior officer in water resources department said, “Marathwada Water Grid Project will get fresh impetus complete with allocation. Apart from that, emphasis will be laid on water conservation projects to overcome the peak summer, beginning March, to tide over the possible drought ahead.”

Former CM and senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan said, “The government should handle Maratha reservation sensitively. By using police force, it cannot resolve the issue.”

Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana president Raju Shetti expressed disappointment with government. “They are so caught up with politics, where is the time to address farmers’ problems?” he said.

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