The Centre and the Haryana government have placated the agitating Jats into withdrawing their agitation. It remains to be seen, though, for how long the lull holds.
After his meeting with the All India Jat Arakshan Sangarsh Samiti, the group spearheading the protests in Haryana, the state’s chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, said, “We have agreed that there should be reservations in Haryana for the Jat community. We have completed our work. Now the issue is pending in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.” After the agitation last year, the Haryana government announced a 10 per cent reservation for the community. But this move was put on hold by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
Given that the courts have rejected reservations for Jats in the past as well, the latest assurances by the Centre and the Haryana government seem nothing more than time-buying gambits. The Jats are predominantly an agrarian community. But shrinking and fragmented landholdings, stagnation in agriculture and the slow pace of transformation in the countryside in general has meant that the community that is dominant in rural Haryana is not doing well economically.
Like middle-level castes in several parts of the country, the Jats have also been constrained by their lack of education to take advantage of opportunities in the non-agricultural sectors. They do not have the required acumen and access to business networks to take advantage of openings in agri-business. From the mid-1990s, the community has campaigned for inclusion in the OBC list. In 2014, just before the
Parliamentary elections, the UPA government approved reservation for the Jat community, going against the recommendations of the National Commission of the Backward Classes. A year before that, the Haryana government had introduced a 10 per cent reservation for Jats in government service on the basis of a report by the state’s Third Backward Classes Commission. In 2015, the Supreme Court quashed the Centre’s notification on the grounds that the Jats do not satisfy the Mandal Commission criteria of backward classes, either socially, economically or educationally. Following the apex court’s verdict, the Punjab and Haryana High Court stayed the Haryana government’s quota for Jats.
The Haryana government’s latest announcement chooses to ignore the career of past attempts to provide reservation to Jats. And it’s not just Haryana. Last year, the Bombay High Court rejected the Maharashtra government’s decision to provide reservations for the Marathas — another dominant caste — in government jobs.
By continuing to harp on reservations, nevertheless, the Centre and the state governments stand the risk of aggravating an already emotive issue, while neglecting the socio-economic reasons behind the Jat unrest, which demand the creation of new jobs, enhancement of skills and improvement in the quality of education.