Sushil Manav in Chandigarh
Thirty persons died and property worth several thousands crores was damaged when the Jat quota stir turned violent in Haryana in February 2016. More than two years hence, the Maharashtra Government’s announcement of 16 per cent quota for Marathas has once again brought focus on the Jats, who have been demanding reservation for more than a decade now. With the Assembly polls next year, will Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar resort to similar vote bank-pleasing tactics?
Within a month of the 2016 violence, the BJP government had come up with a legislation that provided 10 per cent quota to Jats and five other castes — Jat Sikh, Ror, Bishnoi, Tyagi and Mulla Jat/Muslim Jat — by constituting a new classification, Block ‘C’, in the Backward Classes category. However, before the members of the Jat community could taste the fruits of reservation, the issue got embroiled in legal tangle and is still pending before the Supreme Court.
Yashpal Malik, national convenor of the All Indian Jat Arakashan Sangharsh Samiti (AIJASS), alleges that the BJP governments, whether in Haryana or in Maharashtra, do not really mean to provide reservation to the Jats or the Marathas. He says that the move by Maharashtra government is merely aimed at votes.
“The Maharashtra government’s decision will only be good until someone approaches the courts because, like the quota offered in Haryana, it is against the spirit of Schedule 9 of the Constitution of India. The moment it is challenged in a court of law, it will stand nowhere,” says Malik.
Subhash Barala, state president of the BJP, however, says that the state government is serious in its resolve to provide quota to the Jats and other castes in Haryana as well as at the Centre. “It was the fault of the previous Congress government to have announced quota without passing an Act in the Assembly. The BJP government made the amendments and passed the legislation and was to send it to the central government for inclusion in the 9th Schedule when it was challenged in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. In the court too, the state government engaged the best of lawyers to defend its case which eventually went in our favour. However, it was challenged in the SC where we are fighting the case with full force,” maintains Barala.
Talking about the quota in the Centre, Barala says that the BJP government has provided constitutional status to the National Backward Classes Commission so that its findings have greater force.
Notably, in March 2016, the Haryana Assembly had passed two Bills. The Haryana Backward Classes (Reservation in Services and Admission in Educational Institutions) Bill, 2016, proposed to give statutory status to Backward Classes Block ‘A’, Backward Classes Block ‘B’ and Backward Classes Block ‘C’. The Haryana Backward Classes Commission Bill, 2016, proposed to set up a permanent mechanism and give statutory status to the Haryana Backward Classes Commission. At that time, the Haryana Government had also announced that it would approach the Centre for including this Act in the ninth schedule of the Constitution as the reservation breached the 50 percent ceiling set by the Supreme Court.
However, in less than two months, the Punjab and Haryana High Court put the reservation on hold. The stay came after a petition by Bhiwani resident Murari Lal Gupta, who had argued that the government had violated the basic structure of the Constitution.
After a long-drawn battle that continued for over 16 months, the HC, on September 1, 2017, finally upheld the quota laws, but stayed its implementation till March 31, 2018. It said the extent of reservation would be determined by the State Backward Classes Commission on the basis of data submitted either by the state government or collected on its own.
Before this, the previous Congress government had given 10 per cent quota to the Jats and other castes by a cabinet decision in December 2013, a few months before the 2014 Parliamentary polls. On March 4, 2014, the Centre had also announced quota to the Jats and others in central government jobs and educational institutions. However, this proved short-lived too as the Supreme Court set aside the quota in central government jobs and, within a few days, the reservation provided to the Jats and others in Haryana was also declared ultra vires of the Constitution.
Malik says that if the government is serious in giving quota, it should include the Jats and others in the Backward Classes that are getting 27 per cent quota at present.
“Out of this 27 per cent, 16 per cent reservation is being given to BC-A categories, which are more backward, and 11 percent to BC-B, which includes Sainis, Yadavs, Gujjars, Ahirs, Kurmis and Lodhas. All these are farming communities like the Jats. We are not asking the government to disturb the BC-A, but the Jats can be included in BC-B by bringing the total quota to 14 per cent instead of 11 per cent as the government still has 3 per cent at its disposal,” Malik insists. The ball is in Khattar government’s court.