The recent move by the Union government to provide reservation to the Jat community in Central government jobs under the Other Backwards Classes quota has created ripples in Punjab’s fragile political scenario, as “Jat Sikhs” do not figure in the proposal.
While reports indicated that the Union government received the demand to include Jats in the OBC list from Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Punjab did not send any communication. Jat Sikhs who constitute nearly 25 per cent of Punjab’s 3.6 crore population are considered among the landed affluent and the socially and politically dominant castes in the State.
Former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who heads the All India Jat Maha Sabha, was among the first to protest the exclusion of Sikh and Muslim Jats from the benefit of reservation at several places. In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he demanded that reservation for Jats be extended to Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh as well. He said the Cabinet decision on the issue was unfair and discriminatory, as national decisions could not be applied selectively. “This is arbitrary and will be viewed as partisan,” he warned.
The issue also provided the scion of the Patiala royal family an opportunity to lash out at the ruling Akali Dal for failing to provide reservation to Jats in Punjab, as had been done in other States. “It is surprising that Punjab has not communicated anything to the Centre so far on the issue,” Capt. Singh said in a statement issued to the media.
Spurred by the announcement and criticism, the Core Committee of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal demanded the inclusion of the “Jat Sikh Bhaichara” in the OBC list of the Union government. Party president Sukhbir Singh described the exclusion of Jat Sikhs as part of the Congress-ruled Centre’s continued policy of discrimination against patriotic people. While he announced that the party would struggle against the injustice, his father and Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said the Jat Sikhs had ensured that the country was free from food shortage — by sacrificing natural resources like land and water.
President of one of the factions of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), Balbir Singh Rajewal said that on January 1, the organisation would announce its programme to protest this “political discrimination.” Two-thirds of Punjab’s farming community, predominantly Jat Sikhs, were owners of less than five acres of land, while the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) had laid down in 1980 that farms less than 10 acres were no longer viable. He said that in the absence of alternate avenues of economic growth and quality education for their children, Punjab’s farmers were being driven to suicide. “Punjab farmers are the most deserving of any benefit,” he said.
Baljit Singh Johal, president of the Jat Sikh Council, has been quoted in the regional media and social network portals as saying that for the last five years, the organisation has been demanding reservation for those members of the community whose annual income was below Rs 4.50 lakh. He alleged that the State government had not taken up the issue with the appropriate authorities at the Centre.
President of the Punjab unit of the Sarb Hind Jat Rakhvankaran Sangharash Committee K.S. Bahwra told reporters that the Punjab government had failed to live up to its assurance that it would take up the issue with the Centre. That Jat Sikhs were not included while extending the benefit of reservation to Jats in the neighbouring Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan was grave injustice, he alleged.