What Jat reservation debacle shows: Quota politics don't benefit anyone

Politicians often make the mistake of doling out largesse in the hope of getting votes as return gift from the indebted benefactor.

But they fail to learn a simple rule of politics: elections are not decided by gratitude; they are influenced only by greed and fear. People are rarely grateful for what you have done for them in the past; they generally vote in the hope of getting more in the future or because of the fear of losing what they already have.

 What Jat reservation debacle shows: Quota politics dont benefit anyone

A file photo of agitation by Jats. PTI

Had the UPA-2 remembered this basic ‘greed and fear’ theory, it wouldn't have stirred the Jat reservation pot in north India. And now, as a consequence of the Manmohan Singh government’s folly, the heat on the reservation issue is rising.

Upset by the Supreme Court's decision to quash quota benefits in Central government announced by UPA-2, Jats have announced an agitation in Delhi. They plan to gather at Jantar Mantar in May to force the Narendra Modi government to restore the reservation benefits.

Jats have been demanding reservation in Central government jobs for several decades. Their case was examined by the National Commission for Backward Castes (NCBC) during the Inder Kumar Gujaral government. But it found that only Jats of Rajasthan (excluding those in the districts of Bharatpur and Dholpur) had produced sufficient evidence to back their claim.

In 1999, while addressing an election rally in Rajasthan, Atal Behari Vajpayee promised to implement the recommendations of the NCBC. Soon after becoming the PM he gave reservation benefits to Jats in Central government jobs. A few weeks later, the Congress government in Rajasthan also included Jats among Other Backward Classes.

Jats are an influential political group in Rajasthan. Since they vote tactically and are concentrated in just a few districts of the state, their votes can be decisive in several constituencies. Logically, the BJP and the Congress should have benefited from including Jats in the OBCs.

But this didn’t happen. In the next election, the Congress government was routed in the Assembly polls in Rajasthan. And the Vajpayee government was voted out in the Lok Sabha elections. The sentimental Jats didn’t exactly queue up at polling booths to express their gratitude.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that reservation politics doesn’t really work. One of the biggest examples of its failure is VP Singh, the messiah of OBCs, the original exponent of social engineering.

Within months of dividing the country on caste lines with his decision to implement the Mandal Commission report, Singh was decimated in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP’s Kamandal (Ram Mandir agitation) and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi turned out to be the bigger issues in the 1992 elections.

But the Congress didn't learn from the history on reservation politics. In 2013, scared by the rise of Modi and its imminent fall, it rubbed the reservation lamp yet again and released the Jat genie. With its eyes on votes, it issued a notification for including Jats of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Bharatpur and Dholpur among OBCs.

The notification, which was later quashed by the Supreme Court, was deeply flawed. One, it was based completely on political expediency. Two, there was no fresh quantifiable data on the claim of Jats as a backward class. And three, the government by-passed the Parliament completely to implement the decision in its haste to stop Modi.

Consider the claim of the Jats of Bharatpur and Dholpur. Before Independence, both these princely states were ruled by Jat rulers. For several centuries the Jat rulers of Bharatpur-Dholpur controlled vast stretches of land in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. During the British Raj, the king of Bharatpur was entitled to a 17-gun salute, among the highest in the country because of his status and power.

Vishwendra Singh, the heir to the Bharatpur throne and the then MP, and his family had, ironically, quit the VP Singh government to protest the decision to implement the Mandal report. And guess who is the current ‘Maharani’ of Dholpur; who is the heir-apparent to the titular crown of the Jat kingdom? Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje and her parliamentarian son Dushyant Singh.

Yet, the UPA-2 government decided to include the former rulers of Bharatpur and Dholpur among backward classes. This must have been the first instance of a democracy carrying out the farce of treating the monarchy at par with their underprivileged, exploited subjects.

And what did the Congress gain from its decision to include Jats in the OBC list? It was wiped out in Rajasthan, Haryana, MP, UP and Delhi — the regions where Jats have a significant political presence.
It is evident that playing with the reservation card never works in the game of political sweepstakes.

In fact, it ends up alienating other castes and groups that are either denied the benefits or whose quota is further divided among new entrants. (The Gurjars, for instance, have been asking for a separate category since the inclusion of Jats among OBCs. Gurjars, who are currently among OBCs, are protesting that all the quota benefits have been usurped by the politically, socially and financially stronger Jats.)

Ultimately, quota politics just divides. And nobody gets to rule by playing this game.

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Updated Date: Mar 24, 2015 08:06:58 IST