In mid-February, more than 20 people died and over 200 were injured when Jats, a prosperous agrarian community, went on a rampage in Haryana.
Over 10 days, members of the community ransacked buildings, torched vehicles and blockaded road and rail routes. While there are no official figures, some estimates have put the loss at `20,000 crore. To put things in perspective, the estimate is double that of Delhi’s latest budget for education. In addition to this loss, the protests also had an incalculable psychological impact on stranded commuters on the highway (there were reports about gender violence too) and those outside the protesting community.
All this happened because Jats wanted reservation in government jobs under the Other Backward Classes category. But their utter disregard for law and order has paid off handsomely: On Tuesday, the Haryana Cabinet passed the Jat Reservation Bill. The state government, which is led by a non-Jat chief minister, lost its nerve after protesters threatened to resume their agitation if their demands were not met by March 31, the last day of the budget session.
The Jats’ demand for reservation is a response to the challenging times that India is going through: While agricultural income is decreasing — this has hit the Jat community badly — jobs outside the sector are scarce. Whatever employment is available is out of the reach of many who have come through the uneven public education system. In such a scenario, a government job is like winning a lottery; it assures an income for at least 30 years.
Jats are not the only ones vying for these limited prized opportunities: There are Gujjars in Rajasthan and Patidars in Gujarat who are also eyeing quotas. All three communities have taken the same route to press their demand: Force the government’s hand by indulging in violence and blackmail. Now that the Jats have managed to get their demand, it is only time before other communities learn that they can get their ‘due’ by arm-twisting the government.
The political class is responsible for the reservation precipice on which India stands now. What started as affirmative action for those who needed a helping hand is now being seen as an entitlement by different social groups. And, instead of working out ways to improve education facilities and create more jobs, which can create a level-playing field, politicians are opting for short term solutions. This is dangerous and is certain to backfire in the long run.