The demand of Rajasthan's Gujjar community to be granted tribal status generated much heat in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, with the central government washing its hands of the issue and tossing the ball in the court of the state government.
"Unless the state government writes to us on this and makes a recommendation, what can we do?" Minister for Tribal Affairs PR Kyndiah said during question hour in the Rajya Sabha.
"The subject is state relevant. We cannot say that if recognition is granted in one state, it must be granted in all states," he said, adding that Gujjars had been granted tribal status in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
Detailing the procedure to be followed for granting tribal status to a community, the minister said this would have first to be recommended by the concerned state government.
"Thereafter, the Registrar General of India has to clear this. After that, it has to be cleared by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Then it will come to my ministry and then to Parliament," Kyndiah pointed out.
Rajasthan's Gujjar community had staged violent protests for six days last May-June to press their demand for being declared a tribe. The agitation left 25 people dead in mob violence and police firing in half a dozen districts and brought life to a standstill in many areas of the state and in some neighbouring states.
The agitation was called off after the state government agreed to set up a commission under a retired high court judge to study the Gujjar demand. The Jasraj Chopra commission had stopped short of accepting the demand but suggested that the law under which such status was granted should be amended.
Kyndiah replied in the affirmative when asked if the government was considering this - but indicated it could be a while before it decided one way or the other.
"The draft national policy of my ministry says the criteria should be reviewed. It was put before the cabinet that sent it to a Group of Ministers for consideration. In due time, I will come back to the house on this," the minister stated.
Raising a supplementary, Congress MP Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi said: "The Gujjars are in a bad shape so they want scheduled tribe status. Why are you trying to pass the buck to the Rajasthan government? Please don't make this into a football."
As members from the treasury and opposition engaged in a wordy duel, Chairman Mohammad Hamid Ansari was hard pressed to restore order.
"I require your protection, sir, for getting a proper answer from the minister," Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP SS Ahluwalia was heard saying in the din.
"At this stage, it is I who need your protection," Ansari retorted.
A former Congressman, Ahluwalia was part of what was called the "shouting brigade" during the time of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
"The larger political debate can go on. The specific question has been answered," Ansari firmly ruled and moved on to the next question.