With an eye on the coming Assembly polls, the Congress-led Maharashtra government has cynically added two more categories to the already high percentage of reservations in the state. With the addition of quotas of 16 and 4.5 per cent for Marathas and Muslims, respectively, Maharashtra now has 10 categories of communities cornering reservations amounting to a massive 72 per cent. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and his colleagues have obviously not learnt any lesson from the humiliating defeat of the Congress, which won only two seats in the state during the recent Lok Sabha elections.
Giving out doles and pampering certain communities are no longer vote-catchers. What people want are employment, health facilities and education. As the 2014 election results revealed unmistakably, people are aspirational and no longer beggars waiting for handouts. They want to be part of the mainstream of development, which can only take place if the economic reforms are pursued vigorously to ensure a high growth rate. This change in the mindset of the younger generation is the result of the liberalisation process which was initiated in 1991 and put an end to the earlier licence-permit-control raj.
The Congress, however, appears to be still living in the pre-’91 period when scarcity was the defining feature of the economy, necessitating the use of political clout to get everything from a seat in a college to a cooking gas cylinder. Now, the scene is different. The opening up of the economy has boosted the entrepreneurial spirit and made jobs in various fields—construction sites, service sector—more readily available. The quota system, therefore, has become obsolete. Moreover, people do not want to carry the stigma of having secured educational and employment opportunities via reservations. The Congress has been unable to understand this change in attitude. It still wants to act like a feudal landlord distributing largesse. But, the times have changed. Hence, its electoral setbacks.