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Quotas for Jats may encourage Gujjars/Patels to agitate

February 21, 2016 19:08 IST

'The bad dream can turn into a ghoulish nightmare for the BJP if the Gujjars in Rajasthan and the Patels in Gujarat, both BJP-ruled states, were to fish in troubled waters and relaunch their respective agitations for quotas in government jobs,' warns Rajeev Sharma.

Buses set on fire in Sonepat. Photograph: Rajesh Sood/PTI

IMAGE: Buses set on fire in Sonepat. Photograph: Rajesh Sood/PTI

 

The pro-reservation stir by Jats in Haryana is yet another albatross around the neck of the BJP which is ruling the affected state as well as the country.

Far from showing any signs of abatement the agitation has snowballed in the past four days. It sullies the Narendra Modi government's image internationally.

At a time when the Modi government is trying hard to woo international investors and projecting how India's graph in terms of ease of doing business has gone up internationally, the Jats agitation has sent an extremely negative message to global investors.

The bad dream can turn into a ghoulish nightmare for the BJP if the Gujjars in Rajasthan and the Patels in Gujarat, both BJP-ruled states, were to fish in troubled waters and relaunch their respective agitations for quotas in government jobs.

Besides, there are many more disparate castes and communities across the country which have taken to the streets to push their similar demands in the past.

The ongoing stir by the Jats has come as a bolt from the blue for the Modi government which is preparing for the Parliament session to present the Economic Survey, the Rail Budget and the Union Budget. It diverts the government's focus from more serious and urgent issues of national importance.

While the JNU row is the BJP's own doing as the party could have and should have avoided wading into the controversy and eventually turning it into a running sore, the Jats' stir has been triggered by factors beyond the government and BJP's control.

The BJP can blame the Congress for the Jats' agitation and with some justification as it was around poll-eve when the Manmohan Singh government decided in March 2014 to include Jats in the OBC (Other Backward Classes) central list. The Congress lost national and state elections nonetheless.

The Supreme Court struck down the government notification in this regard in March 2015. The Modi government couldn't take a politically suicidal step by keeping quiet and therefore appealed against the quashing of the notification.

Five days ago, on February 16, the Supreme Court dismissed the government's plea too which triggered fresh agitation by the Jats in Haryana.

The way the Jats' agitation has gained further momentum with each passing day does not bode well for the government, more so because of the well known stance of the RSS, the BJP's ideologue, on the issue of job reservations.

It was not too long ago when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had made his famous remark against reservation just before the Bihar elections last year, a remark which contributed in a big way to the BJP's rout.

Bhagwat's remark may well prove to be Banquo's ghost and haunt the BJP for a long time.

An immediate threat to the Modi government is that the Jats have a sizeable presence in Haryana's contiguous areas like Delhi, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. This conflagration can spread to all these states. The Jats' agitation has already spread to the National Capital Region, including Delhi. Its further spread to states like Punjab, Rajasthan and UP will be catastrophic.

The Modi government's dilemma is that it cannot crush the Jats' agitation with an iron hand as in most of the affected areas the army has been deployed and the army cannot be shooting and killing its own citizens.

The flip side is that the agitators can't be treated with velvet gloves either. A soft approach will inevitably lead to further spread of the agitation, both area-wise and population-wise, which indeed has happened in the past couple of days.

The government is thus caught in a Catch-22 situation. But it has to act and act in double quick time to bottle the genie. Time is at a premium.

Rajeev Sharma is an independent journalist who tweets @Kishkindha

Rajeev Sharma
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