Protests are a vital part of democracy but in India this right is often misused. The ongoing agitation of the Gujjars in Rajasthan over their demand for 5% reservation in state government jobs and a lower scheduled tribe status instead of their current higher OBC status is a case in point.
While a community has every right to make demands on the government, it has no business stalling trains, blocking roads and destroying public property to achieve its goal.
Since the onset of the Gujjar agitation this time, till Tuesday, 164 trains have been cancelled and 109 trains have been diverted. If the deadlock continues even one more day, the railways would be forced to cancel 44 trains while 98 others would have to be diverted. The railways, which is already facing bottomline pressure, has lost approximately Rs 80 crore.
The good news is that on Wednesday, the Rajasthan High Court ordered the Gujjar protesters to clear the roads and train tracks after the state government approached the court, saying that the agitators have gone against the directives the court had given on the issue — removing road blocks and vacating train tracks — during the first round of the Gujjar agitation in 2008.
The 2008 agitation was so violent that police had to fire on protesters and retaliating, the protesters lynched a policeman. In response, policemen shot at protesters as they tried to damage railway lines and government property. At least 15 people were killed. Much of this violence, however, could have been contained, had the successive state governments tried to address their demands that have been made since 2006. The Vasundhara Raje government, during its last tenure, had promised it and so had the Congress’ Ashok Gehlot government, but none of them kept their word.
Politicians are often known to take shortcuts to buy time on issues like these because every cause is handy to rake up in future for political gains. This approach is counter-productive. Remember the crisis that precipitated after home minister P Chidarbaram’s announcement on the formation of Telangana? The Raje government must desist from playing political games with this issue and once and for all find a solution to the Gujjar demand; otherwise the state and its public would continue to suffer.