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HT Explainer: Why are the Jats protesting again?

They have been holding protests for the last 11 days and the growing crowds at their dharnas (sit-ins) sites have got the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state worried

india Updated: Feb 09, 2017 11:00 IST
Navneet Sharma
Jat protesters at a rally during their agitation for reservation at Jassia village in Rohtak on February 1.
Jat protesters at a rally during their agitation for reservation at Jassia village in Rohtak on February 1.(PTI)

Images of mobs setting eateries, houses and schools on fire during last year’s quota agitation in Haryana have not faded from public memory and the Jats are in protest mode again.

They have been holding protests for the last 11 days and the growing crowds at their dharnas (sit-ins) sites have got the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state worried.

Navneet Sharma looks at what is behind the ongoing stir:

Why are the Jats protesting?

They are demanding reservation in government jobs and educational institutions and rollback of criminal cases registered against several Jat youths, the release of those lodged in jail, compensation and government jobs to next of kin of those killed during the last year’s agitation.

They say the government hasn’t delivered on promises it made during the discussions held in June 2016.

What is the stand-off all about?

The BJP government had piloted a new law, the Haryana Backward Classes (Reservation in Services and Admission in Educational Institutions) Act, 2016, in March last year to grant reservation to Jats and five other communities under the newly created Backward Class ‘C’ category. The act provided 10% quota in Class 3 and 4 government jobs and educational institutions and 6% in Class 1 and 2 posts to them in Schedule-3.

Read | Ready to talk with govt, but only if they come to us: Jat leaders change stand

The reservation was stayed by the Punjab and Haryana high court on May 26. The government has been trying to defend its quota law since. While reservation continues to be their principal demand, the protesters are pressing hard for other demands as well. However, the state administration has its limitations, both administrative and political.

When Haryana was rocked by last year’s caste violence that claimed 30 lives and destroyed public and private property worth hundreds of crores, the state government had drawn flak for lack of preparedness and poor response.

Though there has been little or no progress in most stir-related cases, the government does not want to be seen as “formally withdrawing” cases or caving into the Jat protesters, given its own traditional support among the non-Jats.

Also, there are disagreements in the political top brass of the state BJP, including the ministers, on this. The government has already announced jobs to kin of those killed during the agitation, including those who indulged in violence. The modalities are still to be finalised, though.

Why is the Khattar government worried?

The state government, which came across as ineffectual during last year’s agitation, is wary of a repeat. The protests announced by All India Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti (AIJASS), an umbrella organisation spearheading the quota campaign, at 19 places across the state have picked up pace after a slow start. The numbers of protesters are swelling by the day.

Read | If disruptions happen again during Jat stir, the Haryana government must be held responsible

And Rohtak, the epicentre of last year’s agitation and the district which saw the worst violence in February 2016, has taken the lead again with thousands of Jats, including women, turning up at the dharna (sit-in) site in Jassia village every day to mount pressure on the state government. Though the stir has been peaceful till now, the growing turnout is giving the state top brass the jitters.

Is this stir different from the 2016 blow-up?

Like the February 2016 agitation, the protests are getting spontaneous support from the community. But that’s where the similarity ends. The stir has been peaceful so far, unlike the last year’s protests that saw large-scale arson and looting. While there was no clear leadership at that time, this one is being led by AIJASS. Also, the state and district authorities are showing some semblance of preparedness this time.

What is the political support to the agitation?

The opposition Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and Congress have publicly announced their support. Their senior leaders have not only been visiting the protest sites to bolster the protesters’ confidence but are also donating money to help them make arrangements and keep their makeshift kitchens running, prompting the ruling BJP to dub the protests as “politically motivated”.

What is the government strategy?

It is a sort of a tightrope walk for the state government. While the ruling BJP does not want to let the law and order situation get out of hands this time, it is wary of taking any stringent action that could alienate the Jats totally, just days ahead of the high-stakes battle in Uttar Pradesh. Western UP, which will go to polls on February 11 and 15, accounts for 140 of the 403 assembly constituencies in the state.

Read | After Haryana, peaceful protests for Jat reservation spread in Delhi

While Jats are in a position to influence the outcome in more than a third of these seats, AIJASS chief Yashpal Malik is already holding meetings against the BJP candidates there. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Khattar government is just trying to buy time. It has set up a five-member committee of officers – comprising four IAS and one IPS officer — to start a dialogue with the protesters.