Reservation politics in India: From Gujjars, Jats, Patidars to Marathas, communities line up for their piece of caste-based quota pie
Marathas are the latest addition to a list of communities in India who have demanded reservation (or quota) in jobs and education, but many have debated that offering quota to communities without going over its merits dilutes the purpose of having a quota system for backward castes.
While the initial rationale of reserving a certain section of job and education was to make up for past oppression, in the current scenario it can be said that it has become more of an election perk than an employment scheme.
Bombay High Court on 27 June upheld the validity of reservations in education and government jobs granted to the Maratha community under the Socially and Educationally Backward Class category but reduced the quantum from 16 percent
Marathas are the latest addition to a list of communities in India who have demanded reservation (or quota) in jobs and education, but many have debated that offering quota to communities without going over its merits dilutes the purpose of having a quota system for backward castes
The quota system in India has been a matter of serious debate and has a storied history. While the initial rationale of reserving a certain section of job and education was to make up for past oppression, in the current scenario it can be said that it has become more of an election perk than an employment scheme.
In the latest, the Bombay High Court on 27 June upheld the validity of reservations in education and government jobs granted to the Maratha community under the Socially and Educationally Backward Class category but reduced the quantum from 16 percent.
Bringing down the quota from the proposed 16 percent to 12 percent for education and 13 percent for jobs on the grounds, it observed that the higher quota was "not justifiable". While the Maharashtra government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party was happy with the court order, minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said that the government will request the court to reconsider the 16 percent quota.
Marathas are the latest addition to a list of communities in India who have demanded reservation (or quota) in jobs and education, but many have debated that offering quota to communities without going over its merits dilutes the purpose of having a quota system for backward castes. Here is a rundown of other communities that have demanded reservation and how this is mired in politics.
A pastoral community who constitute about seven percent of Rajasthan's population according to the 1931 caste census, Gujjars have held several rounds of protests since 2005 for reservation in educational institutions and employment in a separate backward category that is apart from the existing 21 percent set aside for Other Backward Classes in Rajasthan.
To simplify: The upper limit for reservation in government jobs in Rajasthan is 50 percent. Currently, 21 percent of seats are reserved for OBCs, 16 percent for Scheduled Castes and 12 percent for Scheduled Tribes bringing the total to 49 percent.
From 2006 onwards, Gujjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla has led a movement demanding that 5 percent of seats from within the OBC quota be carved out for Gujjars. In other words, Gujjars want a quota within the existing reservation for OBCs.
Over 70 Gujjars have died in the agitation which has spanned over 10 years. In 2006, mahapanchayats in Bharatpur and Dausa, districts with huge Gujjar populations, carried out protests. The protests turned violent the next year claiming lives of many Gujjar-Meena clashes. More Gujjar protesters were killed in 2008 in Pilukapura (Bharatpur), Patoli and Sikandra (Dausa).
The Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government had given into the demands and, in 2008 granted 5 percent reservation to Gujjars as part of Special Backward Classes. Another 14 percent was allotted to Economically Backward Classes. The decision took the quota over 50 percent. But a stay was imposed on its implementation with the passing of the 103rd Amendment to the Constitution that allows for a 10 percent quota for the economically backward among communities that do not enjoy any form of reservation.
The Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in 2012 offered the same 5 percent reservation to the community in the hope that at least 1 percent would be within the 50 percent ceiling. But the remaining 4 percent was challenged again in court.
The story of Jats demanding quota is intertwined with that of Gujjars. As explained earlier in this piece, Rajasthan has 49 percent reservation that includes OBCs, SCs, and STs. A whopping share of the OBC quota is locked away for the Jats. Bainsla had asked the state government for 5 percent from this OBC quota by categorising it into 'Backward' and 'Most Backward' Classes. Jats warned both, the Congress and the BJP governments, not to touch their share of quota.
In 2016, over 30 were killed, dozens were injured and there was massive damage to property when three years ago waves of violence spread through Haryana. The Jats, who constitute 29 percent of the population in Haryana, are among the most dominant communities in several states of the country. Their population in total is about 82.5 million. Over the years, they have become politically active in certain states, especially in Haryana and Punjab.
Successive governments, both of the Congress and BJP, have made repeated attempts to keep the Jats happy by promising them reservations in government jobs and educational institutions. Steps have been initiated on several occasions, but the issue of reservation continues to remain entangled in litigation.in
This wasn't the first protest by the community demanding reservation. They had staged massive agitations from 2004-2014 during Congress' rule, but assurances by politicans assuaged agitators. After BJP's thumping victory in 2014 in Haryana, which was powered by Jat votes, a non-Jat became the chief minister. It was a major shift in state's political tradition.
BJP's problems were exacerbated by their own Kurukshetra MP Raj Kumar Saini who opposed quota for Jats. He threatened to unite volunteers from 35 communities for a "direct action" against the protesters. He argued that the Jat demand for reservation is "an illegal" one "completely unacceptable" to the state's OBCs.
All political parties have had to wade in the murky waters of Jat quota politics.
In March 2014, the UPA brought Jats under the central list of so-called other backward classes (OBCs) in Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and the National Capital Territory of Delhi, Bharatpur and Dholpur districts of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The decision was taken despite the National Commission for Backward Castes (NCBC) submitting a report to the Centre in 2014 stating that the Jat Community had "not fulfilled the criteria for inclusion in the Central List of OBCs."
After violent protests starting in 2016 when the Army was called in to rein the protests, the BJP announced a legislation giving a 10 percent reservation to Jats and five other castes – Bishnois, Rors, Tyagis, Mulla/Muslim Jats, and Jat Sikhs. The Haryana Assembly passed two Bills in March 2016, The Haryana Backward Classes (Reservation in Services and Admission in Educational Institutions) Bill, 2016 and The Haryana Backward Classes Commission Bill, 2016. The first bill proposed to give statutory status to Backward Classes Block 'A', Backward Classes Block 'B', and Backward Classes Block 'C'. The second proposed to set up a permanent mechanism and give statutory status to the Haryana Backward Classes Commission.
In 2017, the Punjab and Haryana High Court upheld the reservation, but stayed its implementation until March 31, 2018.
What started as an organic movement by the Patidar community later transformed into an important political tool for the Congress government ahead of the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections to make a comeback in the state after over two years.
Historically, wealthy land owners, Patidars demanded reservation as a simple welfare benefit by the state. According to the leaders heading the agitation, reservation should be granted by the state to any community at its discretion. The Patidars argued increased competition, unemployment, lack of access to higher and professional education justified that they get a share of the quota cake. This notion has also contributed to the perception that as Patels suffer, OBC youth, helped along by quotas, have been steadily improving their socio-economic situation.
Having got prime agricultural land in Independent India, Patidars were better off than other agriculturalists and therefore recognised as upper caste. They consolidated their position further with the advent of new crop varieties and agricultural equipment.
The Maratha reservations in Maharashtra, however, gave Patels a new platform to drive their agenda home and keep them relevant in Gujarat politics.
Reports have quoted Patidar leaders accepting that in rural areas they have gained from the agricultural boom over the last decade. "This has led to large numbers of Patidars taking up businesses and migrating to cities or launching enterprises abroad. In the United States, for example, the motel industry is dominated by Patels. Patels living in cities are better off than their rural counterparts, and are perceived as being placed higher within the community."
Although not well-educated as some other upper-castes, Patidars have been economically strappy.
Patels, who account for roughly 1.5 crore of Gujarat’s 6 crore population, given their economic clout dominate politics in the state. Besides Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, there are six Patidars in the present Cabinet. The community has 37 MLAs in the 182-member Assembly.
Helming the nationwide protests was 23-year-old Hardik Patel under the banner of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS). Hardik struck a deal with Congress in 2017 to "ensure" the Patidars get reservation if the latter comes to power in Gujarat. The declaration by Congress and Patel had baffled experts and critics.
In 2016, a year after the Patidars began agitating for reservations in government jobs and college admissions, the Gujarat BJP government tried to woo Patidars by providing 10 percent quota to the community through an ordinance. However, it was struck down by the Gujarat High Court, which held the move as "illegal" and "unconstitutional".
For the first time in over two decades, the agitation left the BJP unsure about unflinching support of influential Patidar community.
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