Haryana CM mishandled Jat agitation
Haryana is boiling over the Jat quota agitation and it has an echo in Delhi and elsewhere with 19 lives lost apart from the economic damage of about Rs 200 crores. Agitation for caste- based quota is not new to India and many remember the 1990 Mandal agitation during the VP Singh regime.
The demand for reservation by various castes has been going on in several states. Gujars want a separate quota in Rajasthan, Kapus in Andhra Pradesh, Patels in Gujarat, Marathas in Maharashtra, and so on.
There are about 4000 castes and over 25, 000 sub castes in India. Reservation is the winning mantra for the Indian politicians and their vote bank politics. Tickets during the polls are given on the basis of caste, poll calculations are done on the basis of caste, and quotas are announced to appease a particular caste or sub caste. No party wants to annoy any caste group, howsoever small. While concerned State Governments have tried to appease the different castes demanding a separate quota, the Supreme Court had struck down these if it exceeded the 50 percent stipulated by the Apex court.
So what triggered off the present agitation in Haryana? Apparently it was the provoking remark of a BJP MLA Saini, which enraged the Jats. In Haryana they are the predominant caste with 27 percent population who dominate a third of the 90 seats in Haryana.
Out of ten Chief Ministers since its formation seven of them have been Jats. They have been demanding quotas in government jobs and educational institutions under the OBC category. The situation was at its peak when previous Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda cleverly accepted their demands just months before the 2014 elections, knowing well that it is the successor government, which will hold the baby. The Supreme Court struck down the ten percent quota announced by Hooda. A decision is pending on the issue when the NDA government filed an appeal in April 2015.
The BJP has come to power in Haryana for the first time with a thumping majority in October 2014. The first mistake perhaps was the choice of Khattar, a Punjabi as Chief Minister.
Secondly, he is yet to settle down in his job and Khattar’s lack of experience shows in his poor handling of the situation. Had he taken note of the signals, which emanated from the Jats, the situation would not have gone out of control. After all it has been simmering for some time.
Thirdly and more importantly, politics is also playing its role. Those who are opposed to Khattar both within the BJP as well as in the opposition want to make use of this opportunity to hit at the inaction of the state government. Hooda lost no time in staging protests in Jantar Mantar. Since Haryana is so close to Delhi bordering on three sides of the capital, its echo was felt in Delhi immediately where the water supply is affected even in the VVIP areas. This was because the agitators blocked the water supply to Delhi from the Munak Canal in Haryana. The schools in Delhi were shut due to the water crisis.
The Haryana Government’s indications that it was willing to appease the agitators may not be the solution. Haryana is now talking of creating a special category reservation for the Jats. This too could be struck down by the Supreme Court.
First of all, there is some truth in the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s assertion that the quota has been politicised and it is not being implemented in the spirit with which it was introduced. What is required is a broad quota policy. Reservation would become absurd when even the forward castes would demand it. The intention of the Constitution framers has not materialised in the past seven decades as benefits have not percolated down as but are cornered by a few. The demand for gender reservation is also on the increase and a good thing was that a million women became village sarpanches.
Secondly it needs to be seen why these demands are increasing. The root of the problem is lack of jobs and this needs to be addressed. The Haryana Jats too, like their brothers elsewhere face the same problem as most of them are agriculturists. The problem is huge and the aspirations are increasing with the increasing population. If the quota is to be determined on the basis of the population of the Backward Communities then clearly the extent of the quotas have to be determined from time to time. There are varying degrees of poverty and prosperity among them.
Thirdly, the shrillest voices come from the upper castes who seek reservation for the economically weak. Either do away with all reservation or give it to everyone, they demand. Some argue that the quota is working in the opposite direction and demarcating the society further.
No one would grudge the benefits to the poorer sections of the society, whichever caste they may belong to. A better way would be to make the economic criterion as the basis for reservation. New sections like Gujars, Patels, Brahmins, and now Jats and other castes demanding quotas should be firmly told that they are only for the economically backward. The EBCs, whichever caste they belong to certainly deserve some reservation. It is the responsibility of the Centre as well as the State Governments to tackle it keeping in mind the sensitivity of the issue.
(The author is a senior political commentator. The views expressed are strictly personal.)