The Maratha Movement Has Picked Up Steam – But Why Now?

Two words best answer the ‘why’ of the Maratha movement – relative deprivation.

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Two words best answer the ‘why’ of Martha movement – relative deprivation.

There is a collective feeling among the Marathas that they are lagging behind compared to where they were in the past, and where they have been vis-a-vis other communities.

Maharashtra is known for a traditional rivalry between Brahmins and Marathas. While Brahmins dominated the landscape for the major part of the 19th and 20th centuries, the tables turned after the 1920s. Marathas have been dominating since the formation of the state of Maharashtra. Marathas have occupied at least 40% seats in all assemblies since the 1960s. Most of the 16 chief ministers that have governed the state have also been from that community.

Even if politics is left out of the equation, sugar cooperatives, cooperative banks, or private educational institutions – Marathas are still dominant everywhere.

It was the members of this community who had vehemently opposed the idea of OBC reservation in the 80s, and now the same group wants to be included in the OBC category. Two things need to be understood regarding this.

One third of the population of the state of Maharashtra are Marathas, which is made up of a creamy layer, comprising influential politicians, sugar factory owners, owners of educational institutions, and big farmers.

But a vast majority of Marathas are small and marginal farmers. According to a 2014 CSDS survey, almost 20% of Marathas were landless, and 15% owned less than three acres of land. Only about three percent of the farmers could be classified as rich.

There is also a double whammy in the form of the shrinking size of landholdings and the falling income of cultivators. 

According to an authoritative research paper, the average income of farmers increased by a little less than 3% a year in the 1980s. Growth fell to less than 2% in the 1990s. Other than a spike for a few years after 2004, the annual growth in the average income of cultivators has now dropped to an abysmal one percent.

Imagine the frustration if income doesn’t increase annually. Something similar is happening to the Marathas, provoking them to take to the streets.

Why Has the Movement Escalated?

Poverty is an age-old and a prominent problem. Maybe the Marathas have remained calm until now as they derived vicarious pleasure from the situation of richer Marathas, and hoped that things would eventually fall into place since their community had a stronghold in the state’s political landscape.

But in the 2014 Assembly elections, the post of Chief Minister went to a non-Maratha, and the representation in the state cabinet fell from almost 50% to a mere 15% .

That is the reason why the feeling of relative deprivation has accentuated, amplifying the intensity of the movement.

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