Jat Stir: An upheaval foretold

Published: Mon, 02/22/2016 - 11:24

The Jat quota agitation is symptomatic of a larger problem

Nikhil Thiyyar Delhi

It is safe to say that Haryana has become a boiling cauldron. Fresh violence was reported on Monday with unrest seen in Sonepat and Rohtak. Scores of people are dead, vehicles have been burnt, canals have been dug up and railway tracks have been sabotaged. What is surprising is that this issue was allowed to fester for so long. Jats have been demanding reservation for a while now. Reservation for Jats was one of the poll promises made by Bhupinder Singh Hooda when he rode into power in 2004. After the KC Gupta commission recommended that Jats be granted inclusion along with the Rors, Tyagi, Jat Sikhs and Bishnoi's the 10 percent quota was finally granted. However, the reservation apple cart was soon to be upset. Ever since the Punjab and Haryana high court stayed the decision of the Haryana Government on June 27, 2015, to grant 10 percent reservation to the Jats under the Special Backward Category (SBC)quota, the Jats have been planning an agitation. However, no one had anticipated that the protests would reach such a crescendo. Despite sportsperson like Vijender Singh and Virender Sehwag reaching out and appealing for calm among the Jat community, there has been no de-escalation of violence. The current Jat agitation is a trailer of the bigger picture which is about to unfold. Nearly half of India's workforce still depends on farming for their livelihood. Diminishing land holdings, recurring droughts, depressing farm incomes have ensured that the Jat agitation has escalated into a full-blown crisis. Indian politicians have for long used Pavlovian style conditioning to make the backward communities believe that the road to salvation leads through government jobs and reservation. However it is the private sector wherein lies the answer. Not a single government in India would like to go into how bad the overall job scenario is. The first term of the UPA was a period of jobless growth i.e. the size of the economy was growing but overall jobs were not. 13 million Indians will join the workforce every year from now on till 2030, But, if these young people have to be absorbed, then jobs must grow at least 3 percent a year almost twice the rate at which they have since liberalization. This is simply not happening. In other words, one out of every two youngsters who starts looking for a job next year won't find one. India grew at the rate of 7.4% per year between 2004-2005 and 2011-2012. Despite this, the job growth came to a standstill. So, faster economic growth does not always create jobs. It is in this context that we must ground the Jat agitation.

The Jats have trashed a government offer to include those with annual income of less than Rs 6 lakh under an Economically Backward Persons (EBP) category with a 20% quota, to be shared with four other castes: Tyagis, Rors, Bishnois and Jat Sikhs. The government has now announced it will prepare a draft Bill for reservation, and try to bring it in the Assembly session beginning March 17. However, such a Bill may not stand judicial scrutiny in view of the 50% ceiling on quota in government jobs imposed by the Supreme Court. This ceiling has been reached in Haryana, which has 27% reservation for OBCs, 20% SCs and 3% for the disabled. This is why the Punjab and Haryana High Court had struck down the Congress government’s 10% per cent quota for Jats, Jat Sikhs, Bishnois, Tyagis and Rors as Special Backward Classes. This situation is not likely to resolve anytime soon.

The Jat quota agitation is symptomatic of a larger problem
Nikhil Thiyyar Delhi

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