Bane of reservation politics
The race to become backward and benefit from quotas has now convulsed Harya, with Jat protesters leaving behind a trail of destruction. Several districts have been hit by violence, curfew clamped in towns like Rohtak and Hisar, damage to the Muk cal supplying water to Delhi forcing the army to take it over, blocked arterial highways and rail tracks being cleared only on Monday, while 16 lives have been lost and over 150 injured. Harya’s BJP government has promised to table a bill in the next assembly session to give reservation to Jats and four other castes as Other Backward Classes (OBCs). This is despite the Supreme Court in March last year striking down the earlier UPA government’s notification to treat Jats as OBC and provide them a special quota over the 27 per cent OBC reservation. The apex court had then observed that caste should not be the sole criterion to determine socio-economic backwardness. In the past, the tiol Commission for Backward Classes had furnished specific reasons why Jats in Harya should not be included in the OBC list. Harya Chief Minister ManoharLalKhattar is now promising to consult all political parties and take Jat leaders into confidence in framing a draft bill. Since major parties including the Congress and the BJP back the Jat demand, there is some speculation that this time, Parliament may ect the law and put it beyond judicial review by placing it in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. Legal experts however point out that this may not be enough if the Supreme Court insists on applying its two-fold validity test — whether the proposed law violates the basic structure of the Constitution and whether it violates any fundamental right.
Leaving aside the legal hurdles, any move to frame a law to give quota benefits to a powerful group by placing it beyond judicial review, is likely to ignite a powder keg of similar demands in other parts of the country. In Gujarat, Patidar groups may again up the ante in their demand for OBC status for Patels, despite the government’s strategy to split the movement paying some dividends lately. PatidarAmatAndolanSamiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel is in jail with a slew of crimil charges including sedition,even as the government is maneuvering hard to bring his three closest aides and other senior Patel leaders to the negotiating table. However, some Patidar leaders have already warned that if the Harya government yields to Jat demands, they too will intensify their stir. Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu idu too has a similar problem on his hands, with the powerful Kapu community demanding OBC status. Primarily agrarian and comprising a quarter of the State population, the Kapus in fact enjoyed backward caste benefits until 1960. After Kapu protesters went on a rampage on January last, the government had to set up a commission, so the issue continues to simmer. It is indeed surprising that economically well-off, land owning Jats in Harya with all their socio-political might are hankering for OBC status — a demand that has got all political parties in the State scampering. But then, rural Harya is not doing well with the farm sector stagting due to repeated droughts, falling soil quality and fragmented land holdings. Jat youths are not getting admission in good colleges, private industries are not keen on hiring them while government jobs in the open category are too few. In Gujarat, the Patels despite domiting various trades, have seen industrial sickness, high inflation and lack of government policy incentives cutting into their wealth. So like the Haryanvi Jats, they too want quotas in education and government jobs.
As for the Gujjars in Rajasthan last year, they wanted to be even more backward than the OBC status they had been enjoying by demanding Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. They feared that powerful communities like the Jatswould turn OBCs and eat into their share of benefits, so they wanted to move down the ladder — which in turn got the ST Mees up in arms. The State government had to placate them with promise of 5 per cent reservation in the Special Backward Classes category. The parallels with Assam therefore are too obvious to ignore. Both the Congress and the BJP in the State have been speaking with forked tongues about giving ST status to the six ethnic communities, mely Ahoms, Koch Rajbongshis, Chutias, Muttocks, Morans and Tea tribes. Ostensibly supporting their demand by pointing to earlier cabinet proposals and House resolutions, Chief Minister TarunGogoi has challenged the Modi government to do the needful. At the same time, he has warned that the Central government ‘must fulfill all legal validity without affecting the rights and privileges of the tribal communities’. In December last, the Coordition Committee of Tribal Organizations of Assam (CCTOA) comprising as many as 19 tribal bodies threatened to agitate and move the Supreme Court against any attempt by the Centre to accord ST status to the six ethnic groups. Meanwhile, the BJP is maneuvering to placate the six groups by making the right noises, while they in turn are seeking to extract concrete measures before the assembly elections. Political parties are therefore playing with fire in the me of affirmative action, pitting castes against each other for electoral gain while neglecting their development.