The violence that took place in Haryana in February over the Jat community’s reservation demand would not have taken such an ugly turn had the state administration tackled it efficiently. While one does not need an investigation by a former police officer to tell us that the state government collapsed in face of the challenge, the Prakash Singh Commmitee report is important because it shows how deep and extensive the rot is in the state administration and the police. In fact, if one has to pick up a line from the damning report of how the administration caved in like a pack of cards, this would be enough: “The Home Department was a washout. The Additional Chief Secretary (Home) could not produce before the [Prakash Singh] Committee even one page of directions/instructions which he may have issued to the Deputy Commissioners or the Superintendents of Police. The Home Department remained dormant. No wonder, officers in the field felt leaderless”. The committee named former additional chief secretary (Home) PK Das and director general of Police Yash Pal Singhal for abdicating authority and not leading from the front. The Singh panel also highlighted another deep-seated bias that is eating away at the administrative and police bureaucracy: Caste bias. “The caste bias of the officers, both of the civil administration and the police was seen inaction against rioters, connivance with the vandals, absence from duty/desertion and abetment of the hooligans. The bias was conspicuous at the level of SDM/DSP/SHOs.”
The abdication of the State in front a few thousand protesters not only damaged its reputation but also led to the deaths and financial ruin of many people. Thirty lives were lost and, at a conservative estimate, property worth Rs 20,000 crore was lost. It is estimated that 1,196 shops were set ablaze, 371 vehicles were damaged or set on fire, 30 schools/colleges were burnt, 75 houses were set on fire, 53 hotels/marriage venues were devastated, 23 petrol pumps were attacked and 15 religious institutions vandalised. The Jat community is the single largest social composition in Haryana and wields significant influence in all polls. It also poses a challenge for chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, the first BJP and non-Jat chief minister of Haryana. The politically sensitive quota Bill was cleared by governor Kaptan Singh Solanki on April 1 and notified on May 12.
But the state government’s decision on the quota was questioned last week when the Punjab and Haryana High Court stayed the reservation for the Jat community, reviving the politically divisive issue. The community has threatened to re-launch the protest. If that is to happen, the state government must ensure that there is no rerun of what happened in February. It failed in its first big test spectacularly; it cannot be caught napping once again.