After yet another stand-off with agitating Gujjars the Rajasthan government has caved in, announcing that it would provide the community 5 per cent reservation in jobs. This will be over and above the 50 per cent reservation extended to backward classes and scheduled castes and tribes. And crucially, the provision will be included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution so it cannot be challenged in court. Following a series of talks with the community the government’s hand appears to have been forced by the scale of the protests. Road and rail traffic in the State was disrupted after thousands of people blocked commercially significant rail routes and the Jaipur-Agra national highway. The estimated loss to the Railways is about Rs. 200 crore. The eight-day-long stalemate prompted the Rajasthan High Court to come down heavily on the government, asking why not a single arrest had been made. That fact in itself reflects the scale of the problem, but it is one that successive governments in the State have created for themselves.
Agitations by Gujjars over reservations have been a near-annual event in Rajasthan since 2006. The problem goes back to 2003 when the Rajasthan unit of the BJP promised, in the run-up to the 2003 election, to have Gujjars included in the Scheduled Tribes list. But the violent opposition that the move evoked from the numerically stronger Meena community forced the State government to back down. The anger within the Gujjar community grew to worrying proportions after the Vajpayee government decided to reclassify Jats as ‘Other Backward Class’. Faced with immense pressure, the Vasundhara Raje government passed an Act in 2008 granting 5 per cent reservation to Gujjars and classifying them as a ‘separate backward community’. In 2010 that Act was struck down by the Rajasthan High Court, which held that the total quantum of reservation had exceeded the ceiling of 50 per cent as laid down in the Mandal judgment. Unsurprisingly, this did not go down well with the Gujjar community, which demanded the promised 5 per cent reservation no matter what. This is proof, if any were required, that once caste politics is set in motion it creates a vicious cycle of unsustainable promises. By succumbing to the demands rather than take proactive action to end the agitation, the Rajasthan government has set a dangerous precedent. For, concessions made to one community inevitably trigger concerns in others. The Gujjar agitation may have ended for now, but it is certain to return in other forms.
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