Buckling under blackmail

Buckling under blackmail

Quota riots: Demands for reservation hinges on fear of losing ground to 'others' in Haryana

Buckling under blackmail
If only Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had accepted the Jat’s demand for quota earlier, several lives would have been saved and the state could have escaped the ignominious resemblance of a riot-hit zone. Caught in the labyrinth of appeasing non-Jats, his core constituents, Khattar’s naivety allowed the protest to spiral out of control. The Jats constitute 27% of Haryana’s population. But beyond the numbers, this community has long influenced policy determinants and impacted the political discourse in the region.
Though the demand is not new, but this time around, the Jats were dealing with an all new set of incumbents of the saffron party–many first-timers like Khattar and those bereft of administrative experience. The agitation did not escalate overnight. The protesters had kept the ammunition dry for that all-explosive strike that shook everything, from the state establishment to the Centre that buckled under blackmail. The government, by then, was helpless and left with little choice.

The intelligence agencies faltered to make a real assessment of what was about to unfold. State authorities saw it perhaps as a mere tempest in a teapot. But a lot more was brewing.

The bloody agitation has ebbed now. But unambiguous fault lines have been etched. The stir has created, rather escalated, a caste divide between the Jats and the non-Jats. The killings, arson and looting have deeply damaged the social fabric of the state. How else does one describe the cold blooded targeting of houses, vehicles, shops, malls, hotels of non-Jats by the mob, not to speak of rape of non-Jat women.

The conspiracy angle is being probed. Senior Congress leader Virender, ex-adviser to former chief minister B S Hooda and few others have been booked for sedition and inciting violence. Another critical failure of the state machinery was in dealing with the violent mob. Curfew clamped in many parts did not have the desirable effect. The police–mostly Jats–were bystanders as all hell broke loose.

Jats have been staking claim to the OBC quota since decades. The demand wasn’t met until the fag end of the second term of the Hooda government. In March 2014, the UPA government issued a notification for inclusion of Jats from nine states, including Haryana, in the Central OBC list. In May 2015, the Supreme Court struck down the notification.
As the agitation turned violent and spread across Haryana and even to neighbouring states, to pacify the agitators, the state government assured that it would introduce the Jat quota bill in the ensuing Budget session.

Misplaced priorities

The Khattar government is arguably a victim of misplaced priorities. It handled Jat leaders on a piecemeal basis, wining some, losing some. In the bargain, a section of the Jat leadership was left disgruntled and many among them sounded the war cry. Questions are being raised on the intent of the government as well, which led to a build up towards a flashpoint.

The “Saraswati Vandana” in school curriculum, the anti-beef rhetoric etc., dominated much of the political space and public discourse ever since the Khattar regime took over. After all the damage had been done, the BJP central leadership chose to act against its motormouth MP from Kurukshetra Raj Kumar Saini, who is accused of making anti-Jat remarks.

The overt impression Jats got was that the government was appeasing its core constituents at their cost. The disenchantment of Jats with the saffron party has grown stronger by the day. Denials apart, a sizeable section of the Jats took the selection of Khattar, a Punjabi non-Jat as chief minister, with a pinch of salt, after all, it ended the over 18-year-rule dominated by Jat chief ministers in Haryana. Much of the non-Jat votes govt polarised in support of the BJP which won only in a few pockets in Jat-dominated areas that were the epicentre of the stir.

The Khattar regime cannot escape the blame for letting it all spill over. The stir was turning ferocious by the day, but under the garb of showing restraint, the state machinery inadvertently or otherwise, let anarchy prevail. Peace loving citizens could only endure the pain. Khattar may enjoy a clean image, but the state suffered for lack of decisive leadership. His administrative rawness and perhaps want of perceptive political astuteness stood exposed.

Khattar’s image, even among his core constituents, appears to be on the wane. They question if this was the patronage they were looking for when they voted the BJP to power. It may be far-fetched, but a change of guard in Haryana is being talked about. The Centre gave little space to Khattar during truce talks, and Jat leaders like Birender Singh and others have been at the forefront of firefighting to douse whatever remains.