The UPA government’s pre-poll bonanaza of a quota for Jats in central services and higher education before the Lok Sabha polls can be a potential game-changer in three states where they count.
In Samajwadi Party-ruled Uttar Pradesh, Jats can swing votes in more than 15 Lok Sabha seats.
In Congress-ruled Haryana, they constitute nearly 25% of the state’s population and are a powerful votebank, with Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda hailing from the community.
In Rajasthan, they constitute 19% of the state’s population and top the OBC list -- reasons why the BJP regime in the state has been rattled by the UPA’s move. While Congress president Sachin Pilot hailed the decision, saying Jats from the Bharatpur-Dholpur region would now get a share of the OBC quota, Satish Poonia, BJP general secretary and a Jat leader himself, said, “It is foolhardy for the Congress to expect them to win the Jats back with the dole.”
But what is worrying the BJP is the likelihood of Jats returning to the Congress fold in western UP where the saffron party is relying heavily on a big Jat-Muslim polarisation. “Jats in UP who had been alienated from the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) during the Muzaffarnagar communal riots have drifted to the BJP. They may switch their loyalty back to the RJD,” said Meerut-based political scientist SK Sharma.
Jat leaders in UP seem to be overwhelmed by the UPA’s gesture. “We are obliged to the Congress-led government for accepting our 20-year-old demand for reservation for Jats. In return, we will issue an appeal to our community to vote for the party that gave us justice,” said All-India Jat Mahasabha national general secretary Yudhvir Singh. RJD chief Ajit Singh’s adversaries such as Rakesh Tikait are willing to give him credit. “Now our youths will get admission in educational institutions and jobs and not drift into the world of crime,” Tikait said.
But while it will please Jats, the decision will antagonise other communities in the OBC list in states eyeing entry into the Centre’s OBC list. The Gujjar community of Rajasthan, for example, has called the move politically motivated. “We are not against reservation for Jats but our demand is genuine too. There is resentment among Gujjars who feel they have been denied justice,” said Gujjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla.
Haryana’s Akhil Bharatiya Brahmin Ekta Manch has accused chief minister Hooda of working out “ways to benefit one community at the cost of others”.
UP State Backward Commission chairman Ram Asrey Kushwaha questioned the quotas for UP’s Jats, who he said are a “rich and politically dominant community”, who have been enjoying the benefits of the OBC quota in state government jobs and education.
Even within Jats there is a clamour for more. Akhil Bharatiya Jat Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti in Haryana said it would now demand that the community’s share within the 27% quota for OBCs be hiked to a proportion of the community’s share of the population in the state. “Like SCs and STs are given reservation according to their population, the same should be done for communities covered under the OBC status,” its president Hawa Singh Sangwan said.
With BK Parashar in Lucknow, Hitender Rao in Chandigarh and Urvashi Rawal in Jaipur