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Khattar is firefighting, but could #JatQuotaStir cost the BJP in UP?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:42 IST

The stir

  • The Jats in Haryana are again agitating for OBC reservation
  • Effect: 100 trains cancelled, service on 870 bus routes disrupted
  • Manohar Khattar says he\'ll raise EBC general quota by 10%

The stirring

  • Jat leader Yashpal Malik threatens to take stir to UP, Delhi
  • Rors, Jat Sikhs, Tyagis, Bishnois likely to raise SBC quota demand
  • The stir could cost the BJP Jats votes in UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand

More in the story

  • Why the UPA government gave the Jats OBC quota in 2014
  • Why the High Court quashed 10% SBC quota to Jats, Rors, Jat Sikhs, Bishnois, Tyagis in 2015

Haryana is on the boil, again. The Jats have relaunched their agitation for OBC reservation, and the BJP government seems lost for ideas on how to tackle it.

The state is hamstrung by the Supreme Court's 2015 verdict quashing the quota in central jobs granted to the Jats by the UPA regime.

Also read - Rajasthan govt approves new quotas: will caste cauldron boil again?

A few days ago, the BJP's Jat leaders had managed to convince the members of their community blocking rail tracks in Hisar's Mayyar to suspend the stir, and it seemed over for good.

But now agitators in the Jat heartland of Rohtak and Bhiwani have come out to block railway tracks and roads. In the past two days, more than 100 trains have been cancelled and about 70 redirected. Reportedly, bus service on 870 routes has been disrupted and the Maharishi Dayanand University is all but shut.

There are also reports of fuel shortage in Rohtak, and the daily supply of essential commodities to Delhi has been hit.

To make matters worse, the chief of the All India Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti, the Uttar Pradesh-based Yashpal Malik, has threatened to "extend" the stir to other states, including UP and Delhi.

Already, it has stirred Jat Sikhs and Rors into renewing their demands for reservation under the SBC category. The leaders of Ror, Jat Sikh, Tyagi and Bishnoi communities are expected to meet on 24-25 February to put together a "co-ordination committee to take up the issue with the government".

Powerful constituency

The Jats comprise 26% of Haryana's electorate, deciding the outcome on at least a third of the 90 assembly seats.

"It is a myth propagated by the casteist elements in the media that Jats are prosperous and rich. No less than four commissions, including the Mandal Commission and KC Gupta Commission, have accepted that the community is socially and educationally backward," Malik told Catch.

"We are seeking reservation under the OBC category where the principle of creamy layer is applicable. The agitation will spread to other states and will not stop till the government accepts our demand."

Jats are 26% of Haryana's voters & hold key to 30 of 90 seats. Can BJP afford to ignore their stir?

On his part, Khattar Wednesday announced that his government would enhance from 10% to 20% the reservation in state jobs and admissions to educational institutions for the Economically Backward Classes in general category, which includes Jats and four other castes. The income ceiling for someone to be counted as an EBC has also been raised from Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh.

Khattar also announced that a committee led by the chief secretary would "study all aspects of reservation for Special Backward Classes and suggest the best way forward". The panel would submit its report before the budget session of the assembly later this month.

The Jat leadership though isn't impressed, insisting they would settle for nothing less than inclusion in the OBC category.

Courting trouble

The UPA regime, disregarding the view of the National Commission for Backward Castes, had notified Jats as OBCs and extended reservation to them in March 2014. The intention behind the move wasn't lost on anybody, announced as it was just before the Lok Sabha election.

The Supreme Court quashed the decision, however. It had followed another setback for the Jats - the Punjab & Haryana High Court staying, in July 2015, the Bhupinder Singh Hooda regime's grant of 10% reservation to Jats, Rors, Jat Sikhs, Bishnois and Tyagis under the SBC category.

The High Court had pointed out that Haryana already gave 20% reservation to SCs and 27% to backward classes. Another 10% quota for these five castes and a similar provision for "EBCs comprising general category BPL families and other economically weaker castes" would take the overall reservation to 67% - way above the cap of 50%.

Jat stir effect: over 100 trains cancelled, 70 redirected, bus service on 870 routes disrupted

No wonder, the BJP government is in a fix. To add to its woes, two of its senior leaders are reportedly squaring off over the issue - Finance Minister Abhimanyu Sindhu, a Jat, and Kurukshetra MP Rajkumar Saini, who has been vocal against extending quota benefits to the community.

Another worry for the BJP is that the stir could derail its plans to make inroads into the state's Jat heartland. Although it won the last assembly election, the party gained little in Bhiwani, Jhajjar, Jind, Rohtak. In fact, Khattar is one of the few non-Jat chief ministers Haryana has had.

The Jat region remains the stronghold of the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal. And, predictably, both parties have attacked the BJP regime for "failing" the Jats. Indeed, the two parties are being accused of fomenting the current stir, a charge they have denied.

If the agitation gathers wider support and spreads to neighbouring states, it could have far-reaching political ramifications, especially as Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab go to polls this year.

Edited by Mehraj D. Lone

More in Catch - Modi's 'jumla' nailed: how BJP tampered with reservations in the past

The real reason for the Patel mess: RSS's mission to abolish reservation

Amid ongoing Patel agitation, Gujarat Brahmins also demand reservation

First published: 18 February 2016, 11:22 IST