Torn apart

39Sonipat Dangerous route: Jat agitators blocking railway tracks in Sonipat | PTI

The worst outcome of Jat violence in Haryana is the damage to the social fabric

Mayar in Hisar district of Haryana is as nondescript as any other village in the state. But on February 12, it became a focal point when the local Jats, under the aegis of the All India Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti, launched an agitation seeking their inclusion in the list of Other Backward Class. The OBC enjoy 27 per cent reservation in educational institutions and government services in the state.

When this happened Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar was in Chennai wooing investors for the Happening Haryana Global Investors Summit to be held in Gurgaon on March 7 and 8. The small agitation at Mayar was called off on February 14, after agriculture minister Om Prakash Dhankar assured the Jats that the community would be included in the OBC list. But just then the BJP's Kurukshetra MP Raj Kumar Saini said he was against reservation for Jats, and neither Khattar nor the BJP did anything to silence him.

And Khattar failed to sense trouble even on February 15, when he visited Rohtak, the educational hub of the state, and Jats blocked the road to Delhi and all the rail tracks nearby. Rohtak, a Jat stronghold, erupted on February 18, when some agitating Jat lawyers were assaulted by a group called OBC Brigade. The group consisted of men from backward classes that resist the inclusion of Jats in the OBC list and dilution of their share in reservation. It is said to have Saini's support. The OBC Brigade then targeted a group of students who were gathered outside a university campus demanding reservation for Jats. The students and lawyers then marched to police inspector general Shrikant Jadhav's house, which led to the first police firing and death—of a Jat student—in the agitation. Law and order slipped out of the government's hand at that point.

Khattar's government did nothing to douse the fire as cars, buses, police stations, commercial buildings, resorts, trees, roads and railway tracks were destroyed by Jat mobs. In fact, some people in his government even stoked the fire by instigating Jats. The mob struck where it hurt by blocking the highways in the strategically located state. Then they unleashed violence. Curfew was clamped in many districts and the Army was called in. Water supply from Munak canal to Delhi was snapped. The railways had to cancel more than 800 trains and reroute many others.

Nineteen people were killed and more than 200 injured in the agitation and related incidents. A senior police officer said he had not seen such hooliganism in his 35 years of service. Haryana Roadways has estimated a loss of Rs 15 crore on account of burnt buses. The railways is yet to calculate the loss. Even after the agitation was called off on February 23, many train services remained suspended. It will take time to fix the uprooted tracks and damaged signal systems. On February 24, the state government put the cost of the arson and loot at Rs 20,000 crore, but many private parties fear their damage might not be included. The bigger loss, however, was the damage to the social fabric. It became a case of Jats versus the others.

“THIS AGITATION HAS set Haryana back by at least 30 years, with unprecedented loss,” said former minister Ajay Singh, who was high commissioner to Fiji. “The infrastructure can be rebuilt, but the damage to the social fabric will take for ever to mend. Worse, it is the result of the government-sponsored social re-engineering to isolate Jats, and leaders like Saini have been going around with slogans like '35 baradari ek taraf, Jat baradari doosri taraf' [35 castes of Haryana are on one side, and the Jats on the other].” Singh, who is the president of the All India Jat Mahasabha, believes Saini is backed by his party leadership and the state government failed to act only because it wanted to “provoke Jats and build public opinion against them”.

The BJP state unit says Prof Virender Singh, an aide of former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, incited Jats. The party claims to have an audio clip proving it and the police have booked him for sedition.

It was when Jats, scattered and leaderless, said the agitation would not end until a law facilitating reservation for them was passed that Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh stepped in and formed a committee under Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu to look into their demands. Two days later, state minister Ram Bilas Sharma announced the decision to allow a quota for Jats without disturbing the 27 per cent OBC quota. The bill for it, he said, would be introduced in the next session of the state legislature, beginning March 17.

By then the opposition had started gunning for Khattar. Indian National Lok Dal leader Abhay Singh Chautala urged Governor Kaptan Singh Solanki to dismiss the government and institute a judicial probe into the breakdown of law and order. Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala accused the government of creating division in the state and provoking people. And, Hooda blamed the “differing voices in the BJP” for the agitation.

IN HARYANA, THE BJP had long been a junior partner of the INLD. In the assembly elections in October 2014, however, it secured a majority on its own, riding on the Modi wave. Jats, too, voted for the party. Political sources say Khattar, a Punjabi, failed to reach out to senior leaders of the community.

The Jats' agitation for reservation is nothing new. It has been sporadic and peaceful for more than 20 years. In fact, the Hooda government had notified reservation for Jats just before the Lok Sabha elections in the summer of 2014. But in March 2015, the Supreme Court quashed the UPA government's decision to extend the OBC quota in Central government jobs to Jats, maintaining that they were not a backward community. The Hooda government's notification, as well as those of some other states, was set aside. The state government has knocked at the apex court for a review, and that is where the matter stands now. Meanwhile, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has directed the government to submit a status report on the Jat agitation by February 29.

Jats make some 30 per cent of Haryana's population, and they are largely landed farmers. They are politically powerful, and neither socially nor economically backward. The first attempt to bring the community into the OBC list was made by the powerful Jat leader Devi Lal, who argued that they were educationally and culturally backward. Later, when they saw income from agriculture dwindle, they realised the benefits of jobs.

Though the government has agreed on reservation for Jats without diluting the 27 per cent OBC quota, it is not clear how it will go about it. The Jat leaders have refused to be part of the Economically Backward category with a 20 per cent quota for those with an annual income of less than 06 lakh. And the Supreme Court has imposed a cap of 50 per cent on reservations. Khattar clearly will have to do an abracadabra in the forthcoming budget session of the assembly.

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