Two Steps Back­ward for Quota Raj

India Today - - UPFRONT - By Shougat Das­gupta

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

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