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Jat quota stir scars remain but missing from poll pitch

October 19, 2019 04:47 AM

undercurrent In 2016, 31 people died when Jat agitation seeking reservation turned violent

Supporters of the All India Jat Arakshan Sangrash Samiti during a protest in New Delhi on December 21, 2018. Sanjeev Verma/HT file
Chetan Chauhan and Sunil Rahar

Rohtak/Sonipat/Bhiwani /Kaithal : The agitation for seeking backward class reservation for Jats, in which 31 people died, may have barely found mention in the campaigns for Haryana’s upcoming assembly polls on October 21, but there is an unmistakeable undercurrent simmering within both Jat and non-Jat voters.

“How can we forget what happened? We are not raising the issue (in elections) as we want peace,” Jitender Singh Barla, a resident of Bansari village in Sonipat which was one of the worst affected districts during the agitation, said. “Making it a poll issue will only benefit political parties but not the people. We realise that getting reservation is nearly impossible now,” Rajendra Deshwal, a Jat from Kasranti village of Rohtak said. In Kaithal, another epicentre of the agitation, Harischandra Punjabi, a resident of main Kaithal town, said the scar of the agitation will remain but those “affected by the agitation” have moved on. “They don’t want politics over the issue.”

Vineet Goyal, a businessman in the main bazaar of the Jat dominated Bhiwani district said that all the 36 communities (both Jats and non Jats) in Haryana have resolved to restore harmony.

In February 2016, the All India Jat Arakshan Sangrash Samiti (AIJASS) started protesting to demand Other Backward Class (OBC) reservation for the community in government jobs and admissions in higher education institutions. On February 18, the agitation turned violent, especially in Sonipat, Rohtak, Bhiwani and Kaithal, all of which are dominated by Jats. Over the following three days, 31 people, comprising both Jats and non-Jats, lost their lives. Property worth hundreds of crores was destroyed.

The AIJASS claims that the police booked 2,105 people during the agitation, of whom 1,461 have been declared untraceable. Ashok Balhara , general secretary of AIJASS, said of all those booked, 450 were named in FIRs, but most of them are out on bail. Only four people have been declared guilty by various courts and 12 are still lodged in the jail as bail has not been granted to them.

Despite this, he said, reservations are not a poll issue precisely because it’s a polarising one.

Official spokespersons of the Congress and the BJP told HT that they had been instructed to not speak on the issue of Jat agitation as both parties believe that it can polarise voters and damage political prospects.

A Congress leader, who was not willing to be quoted, said the party understood that a majority of Jats, who constitute about 25% of the state population, are angry with the BJP and would vote for the party that can defeat the ruling party. “Raking it (Jat agitation) in elections would be counter-productive as the Congress may lose its votes in non-Jat constituencies,” he said.

A BJP leader requesting anonymity said it is job of the Oppositionto raise issues and not the ruling party. “I want to ask why the Congress is not speaking about it. The answer is that they were responsible for the violence,” said the BJP leader, who works closely with Khattar.

“The BJP government had hatched a conspiracy to defame our community and broken the social fabric of the society. But this time around, Jat reservation is not an issue, because if we raise it, the BJP will divide us on the caste line and grab votes,” AIJASS’ Balhara said.

Another Jat agitation leader Sangita Dahiya said Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had assured the community of reservation, and promised to revoke cases filed against youths, but neither promise has been fulfilled. “The vote will reflect people’s anger,” she said.

Rohtak MLA and BJP leader, Manish Grover denied this claim and said that the CM had said that injustice will not be done with any community and he has kept his work. The CM also fulfilled his promise of reservations, but the courts stayed it, he said.

On March 29, 2016, the Haryana assembly approved a bill that granted OBC reservation to Jats and five other communities including Sikhs, Bishnois and Tyagis, in government jobsand admissions in educational institutions. The Punjab and Haryana high court stayed the decision in May 2016. In April 2018, the SC ordered that status quo — the HC decision — be maintained.

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