Will Jat reservation backfire for Congress?

Many in the grand old party worry about the message it will send out to the Muslim community
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

The Union Cabinet’s decision to include Jats in the Central OBC list for the states – Delhi, UP, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Bihar – thereby paving the way for Reservation, has led to disenchantment within the party. The decision was pushed through even when the National Commission for Backward Classes had opposed the move, saying that the Jat community is not educationally or economically disadvantaged.

“This will send a wrong message to the Muslims, especially in UP,” Raashid Alvi, a senior party leader said. “Post the Muzaffarnagar riots, things are not fine between the two communities. An effort should have been made first to bridge the divide, create harmony and then go ahead with the reservations,” he pointed out. The September 2013 violence in Muzaffarnagar had led to widespread loss of life and property of people, especially from the minority community. Thousands continue to live in relief camps devoid of even basic facilities.

Alvi also stressed that the Muslims have been asking for reservations for a very long time. “Right before the UP Assembly elections, the Union government had announced that the Muslims will get 4.5 per cent quota within the OBCs. That promise is yet to be fulfilled. It’s been two years. We have not been able to give any thought to that,” he said while stressing that the Muslims have been one community that has been supportive of the Congress. “The government should have ensured the ordinance route to the Prevention of Communal Violence Bill which couldn’t get through Parliament,” he added. Congress insiders believe that at least in UP, this move will only benefit Ajit Singh’s Lok Dal which is in a serious crisis after the collapse of Muslim-Jat social alliance post the Muzaffarnagar riots. The Jats too had seemingly moved towards the BJP after the horrific violence. “In case of a Congress-RLD alliance, it is the latter which gets to contest all the Jat-dominated seats,” an analyst pointed out.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had managed to cross the 20 seat mark primarily because the Muslims who were miffed with Mulayam Singh’s decision to bring in Kalyan Singh had voted for them. Insiders suggest this time the tally might not even touch the two-digit mark in the state. Moreover, the decision could also give a handle to Mulayam Singh Yadav to rally other backward castes in his favour. The Samajwadi Party, which is anticipating a dent in its Muslim vote-bank post the Muzaffarnagar riots, has been actively campaigning among the backward and other backward castes to contain the damage.     

Meanwhile, it is not just about UP. The Congress is looking forward to gain the lost ground in states like Rajasthan, where they lost to BJP by a huge margin. The move could also benefit them in Haryana, where they face a tough challenge, especially from the Aam Aadmi Party. However, the decision has prompted leaders from the other communities to come out with their long pending demands for reservation. “The Gujjars won’t support the Congress in Rajasthan unless they get the same recognition too,” said prominent Gujjar leader Kirori Lal Bainsla.