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Why Jats want a quota

The Jats, Marathas and Patels are certainly dominant, but their mobilisation tells us something about structural problems in the Indian economy.

Written by Christophe Jaffrelot | Updated: February 23, 2016 12:22 am
jat reservation, jat quota stir, jat protests, jat reservation protests, jat rohtak protests, OBC reservation, patel agitation, Gujjars in Rajasthan, Kapus in Andhra Pradesh, Marathas in Maharashtra, indian express columns The dominant castes want to be counted as Other Backward Classes (OBC) to benefit from job reservation. Illustrations: C R Sasikumar

The Jats’ demonstrations for their inclusion on the list of the OBC castes in Haryana are echoing others — including the Patels’ agitation, which resulted in reportedly 10 deaths in August last year, a toll similar to the present one in Haryana where 16 people have died so far. And still other groups are asking for a “backward” status that would allow them to have a greater access to job quotas. The Gujjars in Rajasthan, the Kapus in Andhra Pradesh as well as the Marathas in Maharashtra are similarly mobilised. So far, they all have been denied reservations because of their dominant character. M.N. Srinivas, the pioneer of Indian anthropology in the 1950s, defined the dominant castes as those that are demographically important and own a lot of land. The Jats, Marathas and Patels are certainly dominant, but their mobilisation tells us something about structural problems in the Indian economy.

These dominant castes do not see their future in agriculture because of the attraction exerted by the city and because of the crisis in village India. The 2014-15 Economic Survey showed that the wages of rural India were increasing at 3.6 per cent only (when the inflation rate was above 5 per cent), against 20 per cent in 2011. Those who had land next to big cities could sell it to developers and even became rentiers sometimes. But most of the migrants who left their village to try their luck in the city are disappointed by the job market. In contrast to the middle class inhabiting urban centres for generations, they have not received the kind of English-medium education that gives access to the services, the sector (especially in IT) offering opportunities. While they have sometimes run heavy debts to get some private, not-so-good education, they have to fall back on unskilled jobs.

These jobs are precarious and badly paid. In the private sector, the average daily earnings of the workers was Rs 249 in 2011-12, according to the Labour Bureau, and those of the employees at large, Rs 388. By contrast, in the public sector, the figures were respectively almost three times more at Rs 679 and Rs 945. Recently, the Seventh Pay Commission recommended an increase of the minimum monthly salary from Rs 7,000 to Rs 18,000.

Understandably, the young Jats, Patels, Kapus and Marathas who do not find good jobs in the private sector fall back on the government. The search for government jobs among these castes is also influenced by their particularly skewed sex ratio. Parents of girls prefer grooms with stable income – those with government jobs are often their preferred choice. With fewer girls compared to boys in these castes, there is competition in the marriage market.

However, there are fewer government jobs these days. There were 19.5 million jobs in the public sector in 1992-93 when India’s population was 839 million. While there are 1.2 billion Indians now, the number of jobs in the public sector has shrunk to 17.6 million. In states that have aggressively implemented the liberalisation policy, government jobs have almost disappeared. For instance, the government’s share in employment in Gujarat is only 1.18 per cent whereas it is 16 per cent in Kerala.

The dominant castes want to be counted as Other Backward Classes (OBC) to benefit from job reservation. But governments are wary to accede to the demand since the decision may alienate those already in the OBC list. The existing OBC castes, no less politically influential, fear that the dominant castes may corner the quotas if included in the list since the latter are richer and better educated. Moreover, the judiciary will probably not allow quotas to exceed the 49 per cent limit imposed by the Supreme Court on reservation.

Some chief ministers pretend they can influence the judiciary. For instance, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis has referred the Marathas’s demand for reservation to the Supreme Court. Some others claim that caste should not be the only criterion for positive discrimination. Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje passed two legislations in September 2015, the Rajasthan Economically Backward Classes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions in the State and of Appointments and Posts in Services under the State) Bill, 2015, and the Rajasthan Special Backward Classes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions in the State and of Appointments and Posts in Services under the State) Bill, 2015, with this intent. The main beneficiary of the second bill will be the Gujjars. Neither of laws will be validated by the Supreme Court probably because they push the quota to 68 per cent, beyond the acceptable level.

But legislating such bills sends signals to the dominant castes that the BJP is trying to reframe the reservation policy and reform it. The BJP government of Haryana may well follow the same strategy since it has decided to bring a bill to grant OBC status to Jats in the next session of the state assembly.

The end game, may well be to revisit the reservation system. Patels, Jats and Marathas will be the winners if quotas are not based on the criterion of caste but arthik adhar par [on economic basis] as the Sangh parivar used to say in the post-Mandal era.

However, such a reform of the quota system can only help the dominant castes if more jobs are created in the public sector — not in line with the BJP “minimum government” motto. Surprisingly, the government is not thinking about the most obvious way out: Better wages in the private sector. Three months ago, the Ministry of Labour & Employment has announced an amendment to the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 that would set the legally binding national minimum wage across the board. But the minimum wage so envisaged was only Rs 273 a day (against Rs. 160 since July, 2015) or Rs. 7,100 a month. In the Maruti Suzuki plants of Gurgaon and Manesar — places the Jats know well — the strike started in 2012 partly because workers got Rs 6,000 a month on an average, and that was definitely not enough (so much so that after months of negotiations, Maruti Suzuki has increased the wages of its employees by Rs 16,800 as an average).

The budget session of the Indian parliament may be the right time to debate the figures suggested in the amendment mentioned above — except that the government may not feel like displeasing India Inc. and those who are now supposed to Make in India because of the rise in labour costs in China.

The writer is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/ CNRS, Paris, professor of Indian politics and sociology at King’s India Institute, London, and non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

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  1. R
    Rohit Kumar
    Feb 11, 2017 at 9:49 am
    Mr. Ram but who know the future. Reservation is only applicable initially for 15 years as per Caste. Give it those who more require according to economical status.
    1. Haradhan Mandal
      Feb 23, 2016 at 10:15 am
      Only the Western Scholars /outsiders (mostly those who spent years of their lives) will have the academic integrity and rigor - and will go straight into the issue (without the intended beating about the bush and making things sound fuzzy) - if they study things about India BY THEMSELVES and not when they learn things about India thru their Indian counterparts - the 'Professor Godbole' . Most of the so called dominant castes call themselves backward caste - when the reality is that they controlled and dominated (and still does) RURAL India and Political Power in India and were happy with it. Simply putting themselves as RURAL in comparison with their URBAN cousin (so called white Collared Job holding urban Upper castes ) can not make them Backward.
      1. S
        Sukhwinder singh
        Feb 24, 2016 at 5:23 am
        No reservation as per cast only watch the ecnomicaly position sir.
        1. K
          Feb 25, 2016 at 5:58 pm
          This is not the proper way to put your demand in front of government. Jat burnt so many poor people homes and shops.. really hurts such type of things.. why those poor people suffering due to fight between jats and government.... till now we were fighting between Hindu n Muslim. .. now jat reservation demands increase clash among Hindus itself.. hope such type of incident will not occur in future
          1. Anil Maheshwari
            Feb 23, 2016 at 8:00 am
            Nothing new in this article. The sad reality is is what senior economist and columnist Bharat Jhunjhunwala has recently written in a Hindi newspaper that the entire gambit of reservation or need for affirmative action is sheer political expediency in India. The Black potion in the USA too demand affirmative action but not reservation. The reservation in India is generally made for (1) elections (2) Seats in educational insutions and (3) Government jobs. However, agitations regularly punctuates the common life on the demand of reservation in government jobs only because government servants are pampered one in India. The Insute for Study in Industrial Development revealed in a study in 2007-08 that against the average median pay of an employee in the private sector was Rs. 46,802 per annum compared to Rs. 4,10,898, netted on an average by a government employee besides the vast scope of income from gratification. Thus a government servant gets nine times more than his counterpart in the private sector. On the other hand in the USA, it is reverse. The average pay of a government employee is 11 times less compared to an employee in the private sector. As per a study of the World Bank, India tops the list of 100 countries where a government employee nets more than an employee in the private sector
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