The Jat agitation, seeking reservation in the Backward Castes category, has once again begun to haunt the ruling government in Haryana. While the Jats demand a caste-based reservation and are unwilling to share their quota with any other caste, the government has offered reservation under the economically backward category and that too with four other castes. This has failed to pacify the agitated mob that has taken to the roads and railway tracks across the state.
With a non-Jat leader as its head, the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Haryana is confused about how to pacify the agitated community. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar called an all party meet for Friday to discuss how to ease the situation.
The Jat power quotient in Haryana cannot be ignored by any political party. Jats comprise at least 27 per cent of state’s electorate and are considered to be the “king-makers” in the state. Nearly one-third of the 90 assembly constituencies in the state are dominated by Jats. The two main opposition political parties in Haryana are also headed by Jat leaders, the Congress by Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Indian National Lok Dal by Abhay Singh Chautala.
Khattar is the tenth chief minister of Haryana since November 1, 1966 when the state was carved out of Punjab. Seven of the ten CMs have been Jat. Khattar is a Punjabi.
The last five days of escalating tension across the state has pushed the ruling BJP government onto the back foot. A first time MLA who made it straight to the post of chief minister, Khattar, has had to change his decisions three times in the last five days. A committee comprising IAS officers headed by Chief Secretary DS Dhesi was constituted to analyse the whole issue. The committee was originally asked to submit its report by March 31. As the Jats intensified their agitation, Khattar advanced the deadline to March 24. Now he has asked the committee to submit its report before March 17 – the day when Haryana Vidhan Sabha’s budget session is scheduled to begin.
Earlier, Khattar’s round of talks with the Jat leaders failed. The government’s offer to include Jats and four other castes, Jat Sikh, Ror, Tyagi and Bishnoi under a new category of Economically Backward Persons (also called as Economically Backward Class) failed to impress the Jats. Khattar has announced that the government shall increase the quota under EBP from existing 10 per cent to 20 per cent. Also, he proposed an increase in the annual income ceiling from Rs. 2.5 lakh to Rs. 6 lakh. However, the Jats refused to accept this and so the agitation continues.
Legal experts say the Jats demand is untenable since the Supreme Court on March 17, 2015, has already quashed the Congress-led UPA government’s decision to provide reservation to Jats under OBC category under the central government. The apex court refused to admit Jats as a backward community. Consequently, the reservation introduced for Jats in Haryana and eight other states including Gujarat, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Bharatpur and Dholpur districts of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand were set aside.
For nearly two decades, Haryana politicians have battled with the Jat reservation row. In 2005, when Hooda came to power, getting reservation for Jats was one of his poll-promises. But it was only in his last year as CM in 2014 that his government took a concrete step. Based on a Justice KC Gupta’s Commission’s report, Jats and four other castes, Jat Sikhs, Ror, Tyagi and Bishnoi were included under Specially Backward Class (SBC) and 10 per cent reservation was granted.
In July, 2015, this was also set aside by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, since Supreme Court had already refused to accept Justice Gupta’s commission report.
The NDA government, in April, 2015, filed a review petition against the Supreme Court’s March 17 verdict. A decision is still pending.
While the ruling government in Haryana is struggling to find a way out of the escalating tension, the Opposition has intensified its attack on the first time “inexperienced” BJP government in Haryana. Leader of opposition, Abhay Chautala, has declared INLD’s support for the Jat agitation. “The government should convene an emergency session for discussing the Jat reservation issue and grant reservation to the Jats who are struggling for their legitimate cause for all these years”, Abhay Chautala said.
Bhupinder Hooda attacked the BJP government and held its ministers responsible for the increasing tension in the State. “It is the government’s failure to tackle a sensitive situation that led to this problem. We did not touch the existing reservation that was meant for economically weaker or other Backward castes. Rather, we included Jats and four other castes under SBC quota.”, Hooda said.
“These politicians have created these problems for themselves. We have been demanding our legitimate right for all these years. We shall not step back this time”, said Yashpal Malik, president of All India Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti.