The Jat protest cycle

Jats dominate the state’s politics and are considered to have the best jobs

Written by Chitleen K Sethi | Published: March 13, 2012 12:06:35 am

In 1990,when an attempt was made to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations,the Chillon Jats and Gutka Jats of Haryana found themselves categorised as “backward”. The story goes that these castes were indignant at being construed as “lower” in status to others and protested.

The wheel has since come full circle. Every year for the past few years,thousands of Jats in Haryana have been agitating for inclusion as Other Backward Classes (OBC) for a quota in Central jobs and as Backward Classes in the state. This year’s agitation was suspended on Monday with the body of a killed protester finally cremated,but the September 13 date for a revival is a reminder that the protests are a recurring occurrence.

Jats,who constitute almost 22 per cent of Haryana’s population,dominate the state’s politics and are considered to have the best jobs. The agricultural section of the community is,however,marginalised due to the fragmentation of land.

This is true also of other peasant castes,and each wants to be declared backward. The Haryana State Backward Classes Commission,reconstituted last year under Justice K C Gupta,has received requests from practically every caste. And yet,even in the methods of agitation and in the skewed government response,it is the Jats who dominate.

The Lists

Haryana set up its first Backward Classes Commission under Justice Gurnam Singh in September 1990,a month after the Mandal Commission report was taken up for implementation. The Gurnam Singh panel recommended inclusion of eight castes,including Jats,among Backward Classes. A notification was issued for this,but withdrawn by the Bhajan Lal government.

In 1993,following Supreme Court orders in the Indira Sawhney case,the state constituted a second BC Commission under former MP Ramji Lal. Its 1995 report recommended that four castes be added to the 67 already in the list; another report of the commission,in January 2001,included an additional four castes. Both lists excluded Jats.

Since 2000,Jats in UP,Rajasthan,Delhi,Himachal Pradesh,Madhya Pradesh,Uttarakhand,Bihar,Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh have been given included as BCs.

At the Central level,the Mandal Commission had listed 76 Haryana castes as backward. But when the list was notified in 1996,it kept out the Jat communities earlier named.

In 1999,the National Commission for BCs took up the requests of Jats of Rajasthan,UP,Haryana and MP; only Rajasthan Jats (other than those in Dholpur and Bharatpur) and Gujarat Muslim Jats were included in the OBC list.

The Haryana chief minister wrote last year to the NCBC to review its decision. The NCBC wrote back asking for a valid proposal with a justification for the demand.

Last December,RLD chief Ajit Singh and Congress leader Digvijay Singh met Home Minister P Chidambaram to seek inclusion of Jats in the OBC list. They said that after the amendment of NCBC rules,its decisions could now be reviewed.

The Protesters

Haryana Jats’ decade-long agitation has peaked in the past few years. The protests are seasonal,mounted in February-March,July and September when leaders find it easier to gather rural crowds between the harvesting and sowing periods.

The protests,too,follow a pattern. They begin with a blockade of crucial rail tracks and state roads and continue for weeks. Police action follows; if a protester gets killed,the others demonstrate around the body rather than cremate it. This year,they sat with the body of Sandeep,20,for a week before cremating it.

In 2010,Jats under the aegis of the Bharatiya Jat Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti took their protest to Delhi,threatening to disrupt the Commonwealth Games. In Haryana,protesters burnt buses,a bank building and a cotton mill.

In March 2011,they took the agitation to UP where they blocked the tracks in Kafurpur demanding OBC status in Punjab,Haryana,Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi. They called it off after assurances from the state and Centre,then threatened in September to launch it again.

This year,protesters burnt down a police post,a judge’s car and stormed the premises of the Power Grid Corporation in Hisar. The Army had to be called in. The protesters squatted on railway tracks at Ramayan village and blocked roads at several places. After the cremation of Sandep,though,all blockades were lifted.

The Samiti’s agitations are being led by Yashpal Malik. It had the support of the Akhil Bhartiya Jat Mahasabha,a national umbrella body now headed by former MP Dara Singh. In December,the Samiti split with Malik’s deputy Hawa Singh Sanghwan heading a breakaway group and Col Sidhu leading yet another. Currently the Samiti ha two national heads and three state heads.

The current agitation began with Malik’s supporters gathering in Ramayan village. “After the first evening,Col Sidhu and Malik were nowhere to be seen. The headless agitation was taken over by politicians,” said O P Maan,Haryana president of the Jat Mahasabha.

Politics & Attitudes

Haryana’s electoral politics is largely caste-based with the main opposition,Indian National Lok Dal,seen as the party of the Jats. Successive governments have kept the reservation issue burning. “Bhajan Lal used the issue to target Devi Lal. That is why we never got reservation despite the Gurnam Commisison report,” says Malik.

All through 2010-11,the current Congress government showed extreme tolerance for the Jat protests. After the death of a protester in Hisar in September 2010,SP Subhash Yadav was transferred and later charged with murder. In April 2011,the government reconstituted the Haryana State Backward Commission to consider requests for inclusion. With its report yet to be submitted,Jat leaders see the move as a bid to buy time.

During the latest agitation,however,the government seemed to have decided to take on the protesters. The INLD stance has varied,with its open support of the demand for reservation coming with riders that it be on economic grounds,and that reservation should not be given at the cost of other castes.

Indignation

Members of other castes,who together form a majority,have been opposing the Jat campaign. The 70-odd castes already in the state BC list have two grounds: Jats’ inclusion in the 27-per-cent bracket would eat into their quota; and Jats being socially and economically better off would be better placed than the others to capture jobs and seats. Castes not included in the BC list,on the other hand,feel their interests will suffer if the Jats get reservation.

All these castes have not only made their own demands for inclusion as “backward” but also managed to hold sporadic,though not organised,protests against the Jats. The Congress defeat in the Hisar bypoll was seen as a result of the consolidation of the non-Jats against the Congress,while the Jats remained with the INLD.

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