The protest by the Gujjars of Rajasthan, squatting on the Delhi-Mumbai railway line since May 21, has gone on in phases for nine years now. The community are 7 per cent of the state’s population, and seek 5 per cent reservation in government jobs. As talks between the Vasundhara Raje government and Gujjar representatives plod, thousands of passengers continue to be affected, and the Railways lose Rs 2 crore on average every day.
History of protest
In 2006, several mahapanchayats in Bharatpur and Dausa, districts with big Gujjar populations, carried out protests, which turned violent the next year, with several dying in Gujjar-Meena clashes. More Gujjar protesters were killed in 2008 in Pilukapura (Bharatpur), Patoli and Sikandra (Dausa). Some 72 Gujjars have so far died in the quota agitation.
The previous Vasundhara government had given into the demands and, in 2008, granted 5 per cent reservation to Gujjars as part of Special Backward Classes, and another 14 per cent to Economically Backward Classes. That took the quota over 50 per cent, attracting a legal challenge and a stay on its implementation. In 2012, the Ashok Gehlot government offered the same 5 per cent reservation to the community in the hope that at least 1 per cent would be within the 50 per cent ceiling. But the remaining 4 per cent was challenged again in court.
Special backward classes
Raje had first sought to include Gujjars in a category called Special Backward Classes, along with a few other communities. In 2012, the state OBC commission, on the basis of a quantifiable survey, examined whether Gujjars and four other communities should be treated as SBCs, and be granted 5 per cent quota in government jobs and educational institutes. In its report, the commission said the Banjara/Baldia/Labana, Gadia/Lohar/ Gadolia, Gurjjar/Gujjar, Raika/Raibari and Gadaria/Gayari should be included in the SBC. The Gehlot government instructed the personnel department to amend the service rules to introduce the additional 5 per cent reservation, but the order was stayed by the High Court in January 2013, as it would have taken reservations to 54 per cent.
Rajasthan currently has 49 per cent reservation that includes 21 per cent for OBCs, 16 per cent for SCs and 12 per cent for STs. Jats take away a lion’s share of the OBC quota that they share with about 90 other communities. Gujjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla, who has spearheaded the agitation from the beginning, has demanded that Gujjars be granted 5 per cent from within the OBC quota by categorizing it into ‘Backward’ and ‘Most Backward’ Classes. This demand would be within the 50 per cent ceiling. Gehlot’s 5 per cent for SBC, of which 1 per cent was within the limit, did not pacify the community, because it meant sharing that 1 per cent with four other SBC communities.
Why the deadlock
The dominant Jats have warned the governments of both Raje and Gehlot not to touch their quota. Over the years, the community has produced 30 MLAs on average, while the Gujjars have not had more than eight on average. The Gujjars, on the other hand, have been emboldened since the Supreme Court’s decision to deny reservation to Jats in the central services.
While the Raje and Gehlot governments did not dare to initiate a restructuring of the OBC, they sought to pacify the Gujjars with a separate quota under SBC, which, however, crossed the 50 per cent ceiling. The Gujjar community’s most prominent face, state Congress chief Sachin Pilot, has spoken in favour of reservation for the community, though cautiously to avoid alienating the Jats.