By Rakesh Bhatnagar
It is an uphill task for the Modi government to quell the rising upsurge among the Jat population in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi for demanding reservation in the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) category. The Supreme Court has already expressed its opinion that “a self-proclaimed socially backward class of citizens” cannot be a yardstick of determining policy.
When the UPA government led by Dr Manmohan Singh had issued a notification in March 2014 allowing quota to Jats in nine states, the BJP government and its leaders including Narendra Modi slammed its political adversary saying it was using caste and class for the purpose of wooing a vote bank of about eight crore Jats across the nine states.
Soon after Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014, the Supreme Court scrapped the UPA government’s controversial decision which put the ball in the court of the NDA government. In its judgment in March 2015, the Supreme Court had declared that the decision of the UPA-II government was constitutionally impermissible.
Possible wrong inclusions cannot be the basis for further inclusions, and the gates (of reservation) would be opened only to permit the entry of the most distressed, the court had observed. Any other inclusion would be a serious abdication of the constitutional duty of the state, a bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Rohinton F Nariman remarked.
“We cannot agree with the view taken by the Union Government that Jats in the nine States are a backward community so as to be entitled to inclusion in the Central Lists of OBCs for the states concerned”, the top court had categorically stated as it underlined that the government’s decision was contrary to the view of the statutory National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC).
The population of Jats in India is around 8.25 crore. In UP, the caste comprises less than 6% of population but their dense presence in the state’s western part affects more than 50 assembly seats. States, including Rajasthan and UP, have already given OBC status to Jats in their state lists. Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are among the other states that consider Jats as OBC.
The situation in Haryana is somewhat different. Despite the fact that several districts are dominated by Jats, and various chief ministers represented this agrarian community, the populace has been demanding reservation in education and jobs.
At a time when the Army has been called out, curfew imposed and shoot and sight orders passed in Haryana, which is gripped by the recurrence of violent protests by the members of Jat community, the BJP government looks shaky.
It’s also showing overzealousness in arresting the violence at any cost but the fact remains that there doesn’t appear to be any immediate solution which could pacify the belligerent agitators who are comparatively at ease as the harvest season starts only sometime end of April.
There is a 50 percent cap also which doesn’t allow reservation beyond this limit under any circumstances.
While upholding the decision of then Prime Minister V P Singh accepting the recommendations made by Mandal commission to allocate 27 per cent quota for socially and educationally backward classes, the Supreme Court by a 6:3 majority in 1993 had recommended leaving out creamy layer from the benefits. The court had also recommended the setting up of NCBC to collect data regarding the current status of the OBCs and other backward castes so that the benefits of reservation could reach only the eligible persons.
But the successive governments shirked in effectively implementing this vital recommendation as that could adversely harm the interests of SC/ST and OBC leaders who are certainly prosperous so as to join the national mainstream.
Shaken by the massive stir in his state, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has made a hasty announcement that the demand of the agitating Jat community would be met. But in reality, neither the state government nor the Union government can assuage the misplaced grievance of the community.
It may be pointed out that the government can have a policy of affirmative action under Articles 15 (4) and 16 (4) of the Constitution, which refer to social and educational backwardness.
It has, however, been held by the Supreme Court that determination of backwardness must also cease to be relative and it must be determined with the help of current data. So far the government has been relying on antiquated and outdated data relating to 2001 or so.
Backwardness is a result of several independent circumstances which may be social, cultural, economic, educational or even political.
The Supreme Court has also said that new practices, methods and yardsticks have to be continuously evolved “moving away from a caste-centric definition of backwardness”. This alone can enable recognition of “newly emerging groups in society” which would require affirmative action.
Efforts must be made to discover such groups rather than to enable groups of citizens to recover “lost ground” in claiming preference and benefits on the basis of historical prejudice.
It may be pointed out that the Modi government had tried to follow the UPA government’s decision which had been scrapped by the top court. It filed a review petition but the court dismissed it.
The review petition claimed that the court could not have sat in judgment over the decision by the government to grant OBC status to Jats, since the decision was taken under a constitutional authority.
It had argued its case on the basis Articles 15 (4) and 16 (4) which deal with making special provisions, including reservation in appointments for certain disadvantaged classes, and contended that it could not be denuded of its authority by an interpretation of the court. But the contention didn’t yield any positive response from the court.