A backward tag for the prosperous

Jats are themselves unconvinced about the “wretched condition of poor rural Jats” and the usefulness of the ‘backward’ tag they now have. Picture shows a Panchayat meeting of the community in Uttar Pradesh. Photo: R.V. Moorthy   | Photo Credit: — Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Even before the Supreme Court stepped in this week to scrutinise the United Progressive Alliance government’s decision to include the Jat community in the central list of Other Backward Classes (OBC) for the purpose of reservation in jobs and educational institutions, it was becoming increasingly apparent that this was an election sop going horribly wrong.

In the days and months that led up to the notification bringing Jats and Jat Sikhs in nine States under the badge of social backwardness, political leaders rooting for this reservation in the hope of reaping electoral dividends failed to see the writing on the wall. Forget for a moment that other communities in the OBC category are up in arms at the prospect of their quota being eaten into by the numerically superior Jats. The bulk of the Jat community is itself unconvinced about the “wretched condition of poor rural Jats” and the usefulness of the ‘backward’ tag it now has, thanks to chest beating by politically propped up protesters.

Prosperous and powerful

One need not be a sociologist to know that the Jat community is not only prosperous and socially powerful in Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan but that it also calls the shots in politics and governance in these States. In Haryana, the centre of the Jat reservation stir, the State’s politics revolve around the Jat community, and Jat Chief Ministers have ruled the State for the longest time. Atrocities against Dalits and backward communities are almost always committed by Jats and the former’s grouse has always been that the Jats are supported in their actions by the ruling polity.

In Punjab, which quickly included Jat Sikhs in its OBC list in early March after the Centre gave OBC status to Jats, the situation is even more absurd. Jat Sikhs — a proud, martial, landowning community — brought about the Green Revolution in Punjab, which made them and their State one of the most prosperous in the country. Indeed, the Jat Sikhs of Punjab consider themselves so superior that they have separate gurudwaras in their villages where entry of “lesser born” Sikhs is prohibited.

‘Unnecessary’ decision

So, the first signs of unease with the OBC tag came from within the community itself. Says Saroj Beniwal, a government officer from Rohtak, “Since childhood I have been told that we Jats are at the top of the social ladder in our State. Now that we have been declared socially backward, it is demeaning, and reservation is entirely unnecessary.”

In Punjab, political observer Mandeep Bajwa feels that by including Jats and Jat Sikhs in the OBC list, the reservation issue has gone completely out of control. “It is a retrograde move that defies logic because in both States the community is progressive and doing well.”

This is the principal reason why contrary to expectation, the Congress is not overwhelmed by a flood of grateful Jat voters flocking to its leaders in this election. If anything, the average Jat is unmoved by the reservation benefit because, as Zile Singh in Rajound in Haryana points out: “Jat reservation is not an issue because, as you can see, we really do not need it. In my village Jats are not voting for the Congress because we are fed up of the UPA’s corruption and misgovernance.”

Hissar’s leading criminal advocate P.K. Sandhir is emphatic. “The reservation poll gimmick has badly failed the Congress. Not only have the other OBCs moved away from the party in anger at their quota being encroached by the numerically superior Jats, but even the Jats are not supporting the party because they are a politically divided community.”

A common refrain in Haryana (where Jats comprise 25 per cent of the population) is that Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s Jat politics and his long-held ambition to wrest the leadership of the Jats from Om Prakash Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal was responsible for the reservation. Says Inderjeet Singh, State head of the CPI (M): “After the 2009 Assembly election when the Chautalas lost by a slender margin, Mr. Hooda began to woo the Jats in earnest. Everyone in Haryana knows that the Jat reservation stir of 2010 and 2011 that led to the blockage of rail tracks was supported by his politics.” Mr. Hooda, who has the distinction of defeating Devi Lal, Mr. Chautala’s father, thrice from the Rohtak parliamentary constituency, has established his hold in the Sonepat, Jhajjar and Rohtak belt. But in other parts of the State the majority of the Jat voters are still with the Chautalas.

Overruling NCBC

Last month, the Punjab and Haryana High Court issued notice to the Haryana government on a petition by three Bhiwani residents who claimed that the government cancelled an agreement to do a study on the socio-economic status of castes by the Chandigarh-based Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development, because it did not consider Jats and Jat Sikhs as special backward castes. The government instead “manipulated the Rohtak-based Maharshi Dayanand University (MDU) to deliver a favourable report that showed some castes including Jats as socially backward,” said the petitioners. The MDU report was one of the inputs for the Union Cabinet’s decision on March 3, granting OBC status to Jats and Jat Sikhs.

The Cabinet had overruled the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) that rejected the case of Jats as deserving of reservation and maintained that “they are not socially and educationally backward communities.” The Commission also said: “Ethnically they are at a higher level; they are of Indo-Aryan descent; their education level is high and so is their social status ... Even in the absence of reservation in the central services, Jats are adequately represented in the armed forces, government services and educational institutions.”

But the UPA, goaded by leaders like Mr. Hooda and Ajit Singh in western U.P., who argued that the decision would tilt Jats in roughly 30 Lok Sabha constituencies of north India towards the Congress, paid no heed. The rush of euphoria expected from the community did not happen and barring the core group of some Khap panchayats and protesters, the bulk of the community is unenthused. With the Supreme Court now scanning the decision, whatever little benefit the Congress could hope to garner for itself in the Jat belts has also evaporated.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 2:02:22 AM |

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