As you live by the sword, so shall you die by the sword, is an old Biblical maxim implying that your acts of omission and commission will come back to haunt you. So don’t blame the gods or anybody else. Blame yourselves and then look within for solutions.
And that is what all Indian politicians should be doing today as they wring their hands and blame each other for the 10 days of mayhem that engulfed Haryana in which about 30 persons were killed and more than 200 injured. The property damage in the rioting, which paralyzed the state’s commerce, traffic and supply from a major irrigation canal that is the water lifeline of the nation’s capital is estimated at over Rs 20,000 crore. The conflagration was akin to a civil war in which the Jat community was pitted against the state, the police, other castes and—yes—against the Indian army. The inferno blazed across the National Capital Region districts like Jhajjar, Rohtak, Sonepat, Panipat, Gunnaur and Jind.
The Indian Express aptly described Haryana—supposedly one of the jewels in the Make-in-India crown and a preferred foreign investment destination—as a “failed” state on account of the total collapse of the law and order machinery. The rookie chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, known more for his RSS mantras than good governance, ducked for cover as the violence escalated.
It appeared as if the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was more interested in combating a handful of sloganeering Jawaharlal Nehru University students than engaging in a dialog with a clearly agitated Jat community seething with discontent over a national issue which has come to dominate the political space of this nation—often violently—since 1990.
And there was reason enough to be forewarned. As Venkatasubramanian’s story (Flexing Jat Muscles) so eloquently points out, the demand for inclusion of Jats under the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) list of the central government is an issue which both the BJP and the Congress have exploited at the time of elections.
Accordingly, the previous UPA government had issued a notification on the eve of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to include Jats in the central list of OBCs for the states of Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, the National Capital Territory of Delhi, Bharatpur and Dholpur districts of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
The notification was duly challenged in the Supreme Court as being violative of the constitution. The NDA government, which succeeded the UPA, defended the notification before the Supreme Court so as to neutralize the electoral advantage which the Congress could derive from it in future.
The Supreme Court, in its judgment in the case of Ram Singh vs Union of India, delivered on March 17, 2015, by a bench of justices Ranjan Gogoi and Rohinton Nariman, quashed the notification. It could not agree with the view that Jats in these nine states belonged to a backward community and therefore should be included in the central OBC list for these states.
“That the UPA notification was without any merit was obvious from day one,” writes Venkatasubramanian in his article. “The National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), in fact, had advised the government not to include Jats under OBCs. But the government went ahead and issued the notification on the ground that the NCBC’s advice did not adequately take into account the ground realities.”
According to thelogicalindian.com, several inter-caste battles were waged between Jats and other communities in the fringes of Rohtak and Jind districts. A village of the Dhanak community was attacked by Jats and in the clashes, both sides suffered losses.
“There is no doubt that caste consciousness which was being fueled by hatred found an opportunity to vent accumulated frustration and anger during the protests,” said a commentator. Also, it was payback time. Haryana’s Jat voters had moved in droves to vote for the BJP during the last general elections as a result of the communal polarization that followed the Muzaffarnagar riots in which they and the BJP were allies in the inter-faith clashes which had brought western UP to a halt.
The exploitation of caste and religious sentiments in order to forge vote banks may produce short-term political gains, but it has never been a long-term win-win factor for parties. Witness how former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his son were asked to leave Rohtak district as people who had lost their belongings protested against the Hooda parivar. Overall, the tactic has spawned cynicism, hatred, disunity, economic havoc and misgovernance.
As proof, I quote from a recent observation made by one of India’s most shrewd political analysts, Chaitanya Kalbag: “Stirring the communal pot in UP’s Muzaffarnagar region and concocting the ‘ghar wapsi’ and ‘love jihad’ bogeys helped the BJP win as many as 71 of UP’s 80 parliamentary seats in 2014’s shock results. In three key by-elections to the UP state assembly earlier this month, the BJP discovered that polarisation has its limits, too. All three seats, held by UP’s ruling Samajwadi Party, fell vacant when their holders died. The BJP snatched Muzaffarnagar, but the Congress, long considered a spent force, won the Muslim-dominated constituency of Deoband, home to the Darul Uloom seminary. Worse still, the SP retained Bikapur, just 25 km from Ayodhya where the BJP is going strong on building a temple to Lord Rama. The BJP came in a weak third in Bikapur, a paltry 76 votes ahead of the upstart Muslim party, Majlis-e-Ittehad ul Muslimeen.
“The caste factor in Uttar Pradesh is not going to be easy either. The Samajwadi Party could well be uprooted next year, but by the Bahujan Samaj Party led by former chief minister Mayawati, who is India’s most prominent Dalit leader. As if to underline this, parliament’s upper house, on the first day of the Budget session on Wednesday (February 24), was stymied by a full-throated fight between Mayawati and education minister Smriti Irani, who now has two rebellious universities on her hands.
“So neither religion nor caste is proving to be sure-fire winners. Ergo, nationalism.” Those last two words merit a chapter by themselves. But let me get back to the topic at hand.
The revived caste consciousness and violence between communities has damaged not only the residents of Haryana but also made Bharat bleed again. As the caste-reservation debate has raged, the Supreme Court has repeated that caste cannot be the sole criterion for preferential treatment in jobs and admissions. Social backwardness, to which was later added economic deprivation, could not be treated on par with the shockingly visible “creamy layer”. Repeatedly, the NCBC has stressed that Jats are not socially backward in Haryana. The BJP has tried to appease the Jats once again by promising some special form of reservations. But how? After all, the Supreme Court has set the upper limit at 50 percent. Simple mathematics shows that the only option is to cut into somebody else’s slice which will, in turn, anger that “somebody else” who will threaten to walk out of an already safe vote bank.
“Quota blackmailing” has become the bane of Indian politics. It is fueled by fragmentation of land, rural distress and a demand for jobs. The solution lies obviously in rapid economic growth and giving rural development and skills development top priority, while tackling the menace of seasonal unemployment in the farming sector.
While researching this piece, in which I have quoted from several esteemed sources, I came across something I wrote for India Today way back in 1990 which is probably more relevant today than it was when I dared to pen it:
“It was a decision that will live forever in infamy and become the benchmark of the descent of Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh from leader to demagogue. His announcement on August 7—two days before Devi Lal’s Kisan Rally in New Delhi—that the government would implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission, was initially greeted as a master-stroke calculated to consolidate the backward castes as the new vote bank of the badly mauled Janata Dal. Soon after Devi Lal was bounced from the Cabinet, he was replaced in the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) by Sharad Yadav, a claimant to the national backward caste leadership.
“On August 6, when Yadav attended the first CCPA meeting, he joined the prime minister in suggesting that the Mandal report be implemented immediately. Its backers even went to the extent of openly citing its advantage in creating a ‘vote bank’. Some members suggested that Singh discuss the matter with the BJP and the Left. Singh agreed. But after a fashion. He called L.K. Advani and Harki-shan Singh Surjeet and simply informed them. It was a fait accompli. The announcement followed on August 7. And all hell broke loose.
“The real hope is that the voters will eventually reject Singh’s brand of gimmickry as well—that they will refuse to be used as cannon fodder for a politician making a pitch for them through divisions based on primeval hatreds. Perhaps they will answer V.P. Singh by letting him know that when they elected him they elected him as a national leader capable of uniting the nation and carrying it forward, and not as a leader of urban or rural or socially sectarian interests hell-bent on dividing the people and leading them into the infernal divisions of the past.
“By focusing attention on government job reservations, Singh may have created a fatal disincentive to the youths of the backward classes. Their representation in the technical fields like science and technology services is just 16 per cent.
“But they have 21 per cent representation in revenue services and 19 per cent in policing agencies of the Home Ministry. Now the mass of the backward class youth too will look up to file-pushing jobs, ignoring other sectors. And finally, these youth will end up in government departments where already the other preferred classes—SCs and STs—are mockingly addressed as “Sugar Charlie/Tango” (SC/T) by their peers who scoff at their relative incompetence.
“An apartheid, Indian style, will exist in government offices where two parallel universes will exist uncomfortably. And even promotions will be according to reserved quotas—carried forward into successive years if the quotas are not filled—unavailable to qualified candidates who are not the ‘right caste’. Hostilities will be natural. And the impact of these hostilities will divide the entire workforce in the organised public sector from top to bottom. A dreadful prospect for governance.”