The ongoing agitation by the Jat community in Haryana for OBC reservations in government jobs has blown up in the face of the State government and the Centre. As per recent reports, 28 people have died in the past week and property worth approximately Rs 30,000 crore has been damaged. By all accounts, the law and order crisis in Haryana is down to a complete abdication of administrative responsibility by the State government. What began as a demand for a greater share of the prosperity pie by a socially dominant community has turned into a free-for-all. Reports of inter-caste violence, arson, loot, extensive damage to both public and private property, murder, and rapes have filled the public domain. Within the sphere of State response, it is imperative to break down the factors responsible for this law and order crisis. It all began with the Haryana police’s inept handling of events. Reports indicate that sections of the police force were indifferent, and in certain cases, even complicit in dealing with the rampaging mobs, largely made up of Jat agitators. Women passengers were reportedly dragged out of their vehicles and allegedly raped in the fields near the National Highway in Murthal. Although a clear link has not really emerged between the Jat agitation and these crimes, what is painfully apparent is that the local police once again made no effort to book the guilty. Survivors were reportedly told by “senior officers” not to pursue the matter because it would “shame” them.
The situation has grown so dire that the Indian Army was called in last weekend to take control of the situation in several districts. In a rather unusual move, the army had to identify itself holding placards as a signal to troublemakers that any attempt to breach the peace would be met by brute force. Unfortunately, even the presence of the Army has not prevented rampaging mobs from hounding innocent civilians and physically attacking them in broad daylight. Forget the average citizen, even ministers in the Haryana government have not been spared from the violence. All these events are painfully reminiscent of past riot-like situations, where the State machinery completely bowed down to the demands of rampaging mobs. What finally calmed the Jat agitators down was a meek acceptance of their demands by the Centre and Haryana government, even though the matter of OBC reservations for the community is still pending before the courts. However, going by the words of other non-Jat community leaders, it is safe to presume that this issue will continue to simmer.
The complete failure of the Haryana government under Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar in dealing with the current crisis reminds many of the miserable baptism it faced in the Rampal episode when the State police were involved in a long face-off with the godman’s followers. On this occasion, however, the scale of the violence has been immense, even though the administration had ample time to preempt it. Even the national capital was not spared. Agitators have reportedly damaged key portions of the Munak canal—a major source of water for Delhi. Beyond the police, the crisis in Haryana is also down to the complete failure of the political class, which has either been indifferent or complicit in the violence. The Jat leadership, across the BJP, Congress and the INLD, must be taken to task for not even attempting to prevent the violence. All they did was sit back and watch the State burn when it should have worked tirelessly to diffuse the situation. Meanwhile, leaders from other non-Jat communities in the State have responded in a manner that has added more fuel to the fire. As a result, Jat and non-Jat communities are at each other’s throats over which side gets a larger share of the reservation pie. Left at the mercy of such violence is the average citizen.
To conclude, instead of a much-needed conversation on the nature of reservations and the paucity of jobs in both the public and private sector, what Haryana is left with is a fractured social fabric with various communities deeply suspicious of each other. Moreover, it is unlikely that private investors will spend their money in a State, which can be bullied into submission by a rampaging mob. Ironically, the hope for additional jobs in the State will remain a pipe dream due to the violence perpetrated by the very same community that needs them.