To say that the ruling BJP is concerned about the Jat quota stir would be an understatement. It’s panicky, rattled.
Within 24 hours beginning Friday evening, top ministers and NDA government strategists held three meetings — the last one attended by the national security adviser, the army chief and heads of intelligence agencies at home minister Rajnath Singh’s residence — but a solution eludes.
Installing a non-Jat chief minister was good politics so far as it mobilised non-Jat communities, who together far outnumber the Jats. But that may have taken away the leverage that the BJP might have to convince the protesters that reservation under the OBC category is bound to be struck down by courts and so, they have to be more flexible and reasonable.
It’s not just the extent and spread of violence or the seeming breakdown of the law and order machinery in the state, which is giving jitters to the ruling dispensation at the Centre. The agitation threatens to unravel the long-term political and electoral strategy of the BJP. Its sweep in western Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was in the aftermath of riots that split the Jat-Muslim vote bank that RLD’s Ajit Singh had consolidated with the Congress’s help.
The Jat reservation stir, which is spreading outside Haryana, could not only spoil the BJP’s game plan in western UP but also adversely affect the party’s outreach to other backward castes in the run-up to the assembly polls next year.
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s announcement of reservation for Rajasthan Jats in Central government jobs in 1999 had broken the Congress’s sway over the community. The Vasundhara Raje-led BJP was the biggest beneficiary of this in 2003 and 2013 assembly polls.
If Jats of Rajasthan commiserate with their brethren in other states, it may compound problems for Raje, especially when Gujjars are on a warpath demanding a shift from OBC to ST category. They argue that Jats gobble up opportunities meant for all OBCs. Meenas, who are the biggest beneficiaries in the ST category, are opposed to the Gujjars’ inclusion in the ST category. The BJP may find itself under a three-way siege in a state that gifted all 25 Lok Sabha seats to the party in 2014.
In neighbouring Gujarat, the Jat agitation seems to be adding fuel to the Patidars’ stir for reservation, who are preparing to resume their agitation. Many other communities spread over different states but with similar demands are already looking at the Jat agitation closely.
The BJP has reasons to be particularly wary of caste-based movements. The party has all-encompassing Hindutva as its ideological bedrock but, for political expediency, it has sought to ensure that Hindutva is not seen as subsuming other identities of castes and tribes. For instance, the party is assiduously wooing the Ezhava community in Kerala and projecting a tribal face, Sarbananda Sonowal, to supplement its anti-immigrant politics in Assam.
The Jat stir may also force the BJP to do a re-think about its criteria for selecting chief ministerial candidates. With the Bhupinder Hooda-led Congress and the INLD holding sway over Jat votes in Haryana, the BJP sought to forge a coalition of numerically strong non-Jat communities. But it needed someone with political and administrative acumen to strike a balance. The RSS obviously did not teach it to its veteran pracharak, Manohar Lal Khattar.
The BJP chose Devendra Fadnavis, who belongs to a miniscule Brahmin community in Maharashtra, to head the coalition government. The young chief minister has shown no lesser penchant for controversies.
Similarly, the BJP chose a non-tribal in Jharkhand where tribals constitute about one-fourth of the total population. As a political strategy, forging a numerically stronger coalition of smaller communities was seen as a masterstroke. Jats in Haryana seem to have other ideas.