It was done in anticipation of possible violence after the Punjab and Haryana High Court stayed the state’s decision to grant reservation to the Jat community.
Under Section 144, the government seeks to forbid the assembly of five or more people in an area and prohibit people from carrying weapons. The Manohar Lal Khattar-led government has sought to implement reservation for Jats and members of five other communities under a newly carved Backward Classes (C) category.
All these developments have come after the Akhil Bharatiya Jat Aaraskhan Sangharsh Samiti announced that it will hold a peaceful rally, named Nyay Rally, on June 5 to protest against the state’s failure to uphold its promises.
Past verdicts by the Judiciary on the subject of reservation for Jats indicate that the state government will be unable to uphold its promise. Last year, the Supreme Court had rejected reservations for Jats saying they are not socially and economically backward, based on the findings of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC).
Despite the promise of a peaceful agitation, it is only one spark away from flaring up into full-scale violence. Is the state government capable of maintaining law and order in the event of another flare-up? Its performance last time around does not inspire too much confidence. In February 2016, more than 30 people were killed and property worth approximately Rs 30,000 crore was damaged due the mayhem caused by the agitation.
By all accounts, the law and order crisis was 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.
The situation grew so dire that the Indian Army was called 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 were not spared of 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 governments, even though the matter of OBC reservations for Jat 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.