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Quota for Jats: Is Congress trying the Mandal trick to stay afloat?

VP Singh and Atal Behari Vajpayee are the latest inspirations for the Congress in its grim fight against Narendra Modi.

Inspired by the first, the Congress appears keen to stir the Mandal pot again. And motivated by the second, it seems eager to dangle the reservation carrot in front of Jats.  Clearly, anybody who can help it chase votes is worth imitating for the Congress.

 Quota for Jats: Is Congress trying the Mandal trick to stay afloat?

A file photograph of an agitation by Jats. PTI

The UPA’s reported decision to fast track inclusion of Jats in the reserved category—most likely as OBCs — to snare the community back into its fold is being seen as its last-gasp effort to counter the BJP and foil Modi’s plan to rebrand himself as a leader of backward groups.

Tinkering with reservation and playing quota politics are ploys that have been tried in the past. The effects of VP Singh’s Mandal card on his own future and that of Indian politics are well-known.

But, it is Vajpayee’s decision to include the Jats of Rajasthan in the OBC list that should warn the Congress against the consequences of using the Mandal scalpel to redraw the caste boundaries.

In 1999, while addressing an election rally in Rajasthan’s Sikar, the heart of Jat-dominated Shekhawati, Vajpayee promised reservation in Central government jobs to Jats of Rajasthan (excluding those from Bharatpur and Dholpur districts).

Their inclusion had earlier been recommended by the National Commission for Backward Castes (NCBC) while the IK Gujral government was in power. The NCBC had examined the plea of Jats in Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Western UP and Madhya Pradesh for OBC status. But it had found only the claims of Jats of Rajasthan valid.

The Gujral government did not implement the NCBC recommendation, which is binding, because of its care-taker role. The Vajpayee government that succeeded it in 1998 did not last long enough to act on it either.

In 1998, the Congress had won just 18 out of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan. But in 1999, after Vajpayee’s Sikar speech, its tally came down to just 9. Convinced that Jats had voted for the BJP because of its stand on reservation, the Vajpayee government issued a notification in October 1999 for inclusion of Jats and some other castes in the OBC list. Soon afterwards, the then Ashok Gehlot government included Jats of entire Rajasthan among OBCs in the state, a decision that was opposed by his predecessor Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

The political opportunism has had long-term implications on the politics and social dynamics of Rajasthan.

Since their inclusion in the OBC category, Jats have been the major beneficiaries of the Mandal quota. Their representation in government services has gone up dramatically.

Their dominance of the OBC quota has made the other castes in the list restless. The Gujjar stir in Rajasthan that has led to several violent agitations, for instance, has its genesis in the decision to include Jats in the list.

Gujjars, who were part of the original list of OBCs, found themselves less equipped to compete with Jats. First they started an agitation for being included among Scheduled Tribes (a claim protested and stalled by Meenas) and then as a special backward category.

Similarly, Rajputs and Brahmins have also been making sporadic noises for reservation, claiming that if Jats can get it, they also deserve to be included.

Another impact of Jat reservation in Rajasthan has been the change in social dynamics. The rising prosperity of Jats and their complete dominance of the OBC pie have created a ‘Jats vs the Rest’ atmosphere in several districts. This has ensured that the political gains from appeasing the Jats are offset by desertion of categories opposed to them. More often than not, Jats and other castes find themselves at the opposite ends of the poll spectrum.

The Congress can learn many lessons from the Rajasthan experience. If Jats get included among OBCs in the other states, dominant castes that are currently enjoying benefits of reservation may become restless and angry, just like the Gujjars in Rajasthan. This is bound to create both a social and political churn. Whether the Congress and its ally Rashtriya Lok Dal, which is pressing for Jat reservation, benefit or lose from this, only time will reveal.

In fact, even the Jats of Rajasthan may not like more competition. Jats of Rajasthan were given OBC status only because they were considered under-privileged compared to their brethren in the other states and those in Bharatpur and Dholpur, whose erstwhile rulers were Jats.

Accepting their claim in its advice to the Gujral government, the NCBC had noted: “Unlike the Jats of UP, Haryana and MP, the Jats of Rajasthan produced a wealth of material to support their claim…” Jats in other states did not fit the required criteria.

The Jats of Rajasthan may find their special status among the OBCs diluted because of competition from the more prosperous community members from neighbouring states. This may add further to their resentment against Gehlot and his party.

Ironically, in trying to slice away the Jat vote with the Mandal axe, the Congress may find that it not only ended up dividing the society but also in chopping its own wobbly feet.

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Updated Date: Nov 05, 2013 08:28:52 IST