Two Steps Backward for Quota Raj
In the last days of January, Jats, Patidars and Marathas gathered in separate protests that reprised demands they’ve been making for over a year, in some cases two. The protests, though they are all independent, share an essential animus—a feeling, however irrational, of being left behind while being described as ‘socially advanced’.
Having been banished from Gujarat for six months, Hardik Patel, the face of the Patidar agitations, returned on January 17. But the crowds at the rallies do not seem so enthused anymore. It appears that the time spent in exile had had its effect. The Jats, whose protests in Haryana last year culminated in dozens of deaths and allegations of sexual violence, came out onto the streets again last week. This time, the crowd remained controlled, borrowing from the Maratha playbook and the power of silence.
On January 31, Maratha protesters blocked roads in Mumbai to make their demands heard. Some organisers said roads had been blocked in up to 2,000 locations across the state. But Virendra Pawar, an organiser, insisted that the protests had not taken a violent turn.
It says something about the lack of political imagination that reservations are seen as the only option to resolve unemployment and poverty. In a column, the academic Christophe Jaffrelot argued that dominant caste demands for reservations would increase so long as economic growth failed to create jobs. India’s socalled ‘demographic dividend’, some experts suggest, requires the creation of some 8 million jobs a year. According to Jaffrelot, not only are jobs in key sectors declining, as Labour Bureau statistics indicate, but “they are precarious and do not pay well”.
Political parties, as they might in any democracy, have taken to disingenuously appeasing protesters, or at least making openly sympathetic noises. But surely even the Jats, who have been demanding reservations for a couple of decades, the Patidars and Marathas can see that their argument is weak. Certainly, some of the impetus appears to have leaked out of the protests since last year.
The protesters have also failed to make an impact on the ballot box, as Patidar calls to vote against the BJP in Gujarat’s municipal elections were roundly ignored. Jat farmers in UP are promising not to vote for the BJP in western UP and plenty of anger is expressed against the Modi government for “breaking promises”.
Hardik returned but the crowds don’t seem so enthused anymore
NO WAY OUT Jat protesters in Jassia village, Rohtak, January 31