The Big Story: Protest and placation
Once again, the government is buying time with Jat agitators who demand recognition and job quotas as an Other Backward Class in Haryana and at the Centre. Over the weekend, Delhi fortified itself for a massive march planned on Parliament on Monday, imposing restrictions under Section 144, stalling traffic and public transport. But after a meeting with Central ministers and the Haryana government on Sunday, where Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar promised to begin the process of reservations, the All India Jat Arakashan Sangharash Samiti called off the protest. For now, the siege has been staved off. But this detente falls into as old pattern of protest and placation.
Last year, the demand for quotas triggered a violent agitation in Haryana, with rioters setting buildings alight and cutting off water supply to Delhi. While 30 people lost their lives in the protests, rioters also stand accused of mass rapes in places like Murthal. In response, the Haryana government hastily passed a Bill ensuring the demanded quotas, a piece of legislation that was later stalled by the courts. It also stood accused of trying cover up investigations and prosecution of the violence. The Jat agitation since then has been about quotas as well as the withdrawal of about 21,000 criminal cases against the rioters.
Long years of cynical political promises have led up to the pressures of the current moment. Successive Central governments, prompted either by electoral gain or by the threat of violence, have vowed to bring in quotas. It started in 1999, as then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee promised the OBC quota for Jats in Rajasthan. It helped the BJP win seats in the Lok Sabha elections that soon followed, and made quota promises a prelude to every general election since then. In 2014, just before the Lok Sabha elections, the United Progressive Alliance had announced OBC status for Jats in nine states, going against the recommendations of the National Commission for Backward Classes, only to have the order quashed by the courts. The National Democratic Alliance which came to power that year seemed sympathetic to Jat demands, but political promises were reigned in once again by the courts, which chose to go with the commission’s view on the quota.
Now, Khattar has said that reservations for Jats at the Centre would follow as soon as a new chairman and other members were appointed to the National Commission for Backward Classes. But the government’s assurance smacks of bad faith. First, because, apart from Rajasthan, political promises on Jat quotas have failed. Second, because questions of backwardness cannot be decided at gun point or at election rallies. They require a sober appraisal of the social and economic deprivations faced by a particular group. They need to satisfy the constitutional provisions that were meant to correct historic inequalities. This critical process of deliberation seems entirely absent at the moment.
The Big Scroll
Shoaib Danyal writes about how Delhi planned to pull up its drawbridge to guard against the impending siege.
Anumeha Yadav reported on the Jat agitation last year, explaining how it happened and why.
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- In Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath’s durbar is still handing out letters of recommendation to supplicants.
- With Adityanath in power in Uttar Pradesh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has expressed its fond hope that the Ram temple in Ayodhya will finally be built.
- In the Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta on the hubris of the BJP.
- In the Hindu, Gopalkrishna Gandh plots the rise of Adityanath, which is also the rise of a majoritarian counter-democracy.
- In the Telegraph, Manini Chatterjee on how Adityanath’s appointment worries not just the Muslim community but many in the majority community who are troubled by the ebbing away of plurality and secularism.
Nidhi Jamwal reports on how the Gandak river on the Nepal border changed its course and a village became disputed territory:
“The people blame the changing course of the Gandak river, known as Narayani in Nepal, for the controversy around Susta. ‘Gandak forms the international boundary between Nepal and India [Bihar],’ said Khan. ‘Earlier, Susta was on the right bank of the Gandak, which falls in Nepal. But, in due course of time, the river has changed its route and Susta now falls on the left bank of the Gandak, which is controlled by India. Should the changing course of a river change the nationality of local residents?’”