It’s been more than a week but protests by the Jat community in Haryana are showing no signs of wilting under any kind of government pressure. The only redeeming aspect of this round of protests to date has been that there has been no violence of the kinds the state saw in 2016. How long this tenuous peace between the government and the protesters will hold is anyone’s guess.
The signs are ominous: The community, which has been holding sit-ins for the last few days seeking reservation in the OBC (other backward classes) category for education and jobs, has threatened to widen their agitation if their demands are not met by February 12.
Apart from reservation, the Jats want withdrawal of cases registered for last year’s violence, and release of the rioters arrested then.
Responding to the demands, the Manoharlal Khattar government, which was caught napping last year and failed miserably to tackle the protests, has said that “all doors are open for talks”.
Photographs of mobs running amok, setting fire to eateries, houses, schools and even police pickets, from the agitation a year ago have not faded from public memory. The Capital had faced a severe water shortage as rioters breached the Munak canal, one of Delhi’s main lifelines, and Delhi Police personnel were deployed to protect the structures. Rohtak, which saw the worst violence in February 2016, is the epicentre of action this time too.
The protests have already reached Delhi. It began with a demonstration outside the Sub Divisional Magistrate’s office in Narela on Friday. The next big one is in Mundka on February 9, in Bawana on February 11, and in east Delhi on February 12. There will also be demonstrations in Dwarka, Rohini, Burari and Bijwasan.
At some places, the Khap panchayats or caste councils are also backing the dharnas. Haryana’s main Opposition party INLD has openly come out in support of the agitating Jats and asked the government to meet their demands. While protesters are willing to wait for reservation since the matter was sub-judice, they wanted all other demands to be accepted immediately.
This time round, the state government seems to have a plan in place: It has already sought a large number of forces from the Centre. Not only have physical protection measures been taken, but precautions in terms of inflammatory speeches have also been kept in mind.
However, it does not take much for demonstrations of this kind to go out of hand, leading to large-scale violence and then controlling a mob becomes a Herculean task, especially when the two demands — reservation and police cases against protesters — are difficult to invalidate.
The seeds of discontent will be difficult to weed out, and so violence of any kind would not come as a surprise. So if such a thing happens, no one else but the Haryana chief minister and his administration will be held responsible for such a disruption.