The ongoing Jat agitation to claim reservation under OBC status is currently choking the roads and lanes of New Delhi. The capital, already beset with heavy clashes in Delhi University’s North Campus, is witnessing the added burden of the quota stir led by the Jats, the predominantly agricultural caste that forms a dominant community in Haryana, Punjab, as well as Rajasthan, and even western Uttar Pradesh.
Even last year, the Jat quota stir had taken a number of lives and caused damage worth Rs 30,000 crore in Haryana. But this time, a more concerted and organised agitation sees coordination across the states and isn’t limited to the BJP-ruled Haryana alone.
Shaken, and stirred
In fact, the Jats have set their eyes on cutting off Delhi’s essential supplies, particularly dairy items, in order to drive home the seriousness of their demands. Protesting leaders have submitted a memorandum of seven demands to the ML Khattar government in Haryana, and will stage a nation-wide march from March 20, indicating intensification of the quota row.
|Jats have set their eyes on cutting off Delhi’s essential supplies, particularly dairy items, in order to drive home the seriousness of their demands. (PTI photo)|
Yesterday, on March 2, as part of “Parliament gherao”, thousands of Jats thronged Delhi and protested at Jantar Mantar for quota in government jobs.
“We have come here to protest against the insensitivity which the Manohar Lal Khattar government in Haryana has shown to our demands. We will march to Parliament with our demands," said Yashpal Malik, president of the All-India Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti (AIJASS).
"It is for the government to come out with a solution, but the kind of attitude the Haryana government has shown, we don't feel it wants a solution. We are ready for a long-drawn battle and this march is an announcement of that," said Malik, indicating that over 50 lakh Jats from 13 states will be participating in the planned protest, making it one of the largest political protests after the labour union strikes.
What’s ailing Jats?
A largely agrarian community based in the north and northwestern parts of the country, Jats have been left out from the reservation net, while being left behind by the job surge created in the service and manufacturing sector post liberalisation. Much like Patels and Marathas, other dominant castes that have held raucous protests of late, Jats were not deemed OBCs during the 1950s because they used to be a big landholding community.
However, the several decades of changes in the Indian economy and the systematic neglect of the rural sector has meant that returns have diminished for the agrarian classes. Jats have been struggling with low agricultural output, frequent bad monsoons, migration to urban regions, lowering of rural wages despite MGNREGA, and becoming a community of underemployed, under-skilled individuals whose biggest assets – farm land – were increasingly succumbing to other pressures of a irregularly developing economy.
Moreover, while land holdings have remained the same, population has increased drastically, which has caused deeper grievances to the Jat community. There’s simply not enough resources within the agricultural sector to accommodate the growing demands of a community that is used to wealth and is currently in a decline because of infrastructural churns over the last two decades.
Seventh Pay Commission
The public sector jobs have reasonably better wages at the beginners level and the Seventh Pay Commission has increased the minimum monthly salary from Rs 7,000 to Rs 18,000. That’s a huge jump. However, because Jats do not have an OBC quota, they have been feeling left out of the government spending on its employees.
In the General quota, Jats compete with General category (higher) castes such as Brahmins, who have typically higher investment in education and end up getting a lion’s share of PSU jobs.
‘Betrayal’ and bitterness
"The Haryana government had agreed to bring five communities, including the Jats, under OBC category, after a meeting on March 18. However, the decision was ruled out in Punjab and Haryana High Courts due to Haryana government's deliberate prosecution," Malik said. But this couldn’t stand the test in courts and was overturned. As a result, the Jats feel betrayed and are intensifying the stir.
Earlier, Jats in Haryana had blocked Delhi’s access to its water plants creating a major drinking water crisis in the national capital for a while. This time, the protesters are asking the central government to arrange for maximum security in order to avoid injury and violence in clashes that might take place.
“The government is advised to arrange for as much security as it can. It will be the biggest protest in the history,” Malik said, emphasising the preparedness and seriousness of the agitators.
Already, national highways from Haryana to Delhi, such as the NH-71A – Rohtak-Gohana-Panipat – saw thousands of pro-quota supporters marching in memory of those who died in February 2016. With ongoing elections in UP and the university clashes in Delhi, the season of unrest shows no signs of waning.