The quota season is in full swing in Rajasthan. Almost all caste groups are fighting for higher job quotas. And at their vulnerable most, leaders are all ears.
Whoever comes to power in the state will have a tough time keeping any quota promise. While the Supreme Court has put a 50% cap on job reservation, 49% of Rajasthan government jobs are already reserved – 16% for scheduled castes, 12% for scheduled tribes and 21% for other backward castes.
But the drama is being re-enacted although it has hit the intricately balanced caste dynamics of Rajasthan. Sample this: A fortnight before the elections, the anti-quota Samta Aandolan Samiti challenged the scheduled tribe status of the Meenas and urged the Election Commission to debar the Meenas from reserved seats.
Samiti leader Chunnilal Bhil said the Gazette notification categorised ‘Minas’ – and not ‘Meenas’ – as an ST. Reason: The Meenas have been pocketing major chunks of the ST quota.
This time too, leading the pack are the Jats, who always flex their muscles in the poll season for reservation in central services. What’s more, the Gurjars want 5% quota as a special backward class, while Muslims demand 10% according to the Ranganath Mishra Commission recommendations.
The Brahmins and Rajputs are also reviving their demand for a 14% quota for their economically weak sections. The Congress government earlier agreed to meet the demand, but it was shot down in courts.
Now, since they all have submitted their memorandums and are waiting for the parties to release their manifestoes, this has thrown the Congress and the BJP into a tizzy. No one has a solution to this complex mathematical puzzle.
The scene this time is somewhat reminiscent of the 2012 polls in Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress and the Samajwadi Party had competed with each other to offer a higher quota to the Muslims.
The Congress raised its quota promise to 9%, while the SP promised 18% by the time votes were cast. But it ended with the union cabinet’s decision to carve out a 4.5% share for the Muslims from the overall 27% quota. That, too, was stayed by the Supreme Court.
In Rajasthan, Gehlot’s November 2012 decision to grant 5% quota to specially backward classes, including the Gurjars and four other castes, was stayed by the high court in early 2013.
But that did not stop BJP chief ministerial candidate Vasundhara Raje from offering to match Gehlot’s gift, knowing well that neither the Jats nor the Meenas would agree on sharing the booty.
But the Congress has refused to commit anything during a meeting with Gurjar leader Col Kirori Lal Bhainsla. The Gurjars, who have been demanding quota for four decades, play key a role in 25-odd constituencies in the state.
Though the case is pending in the court, the Congress party has reiterated, “The Congress government had framed law granting 5 per cent quota to five specially backward classes including Gurjars. The Congress is committed to ensure it as per the law.”
Prior to the 2008 polls, Bhainsla met PM Manmohan Singh who assured him of a favourable decision. But nothing happened. Five years later, Bhainsla now says, “We will meet and decide our next course of action after going through the manifestoes.”