The violence, when it first erupted last week, was seen initially as a localized event in Dausa, Rajasthan, where some sections of the local populace—those belonging to the Gujjar caste — were signalling their intent to lobby for reservation in state government jobs. Their argument was that their status was no different from another caste group, the Meenas, and hence deserved similar categorization as Scheduled Tribe. The problem subsequently got out of hand, with clashes between the Meenas and Gujjars claiming the lives of five people. Though the agitation may have been called off, that it happened needs discussion.
It is too early to discern a trend. And on no count can the state government be absolved of its dereliction of duty in ensuring law and order. Yet, it would be worth debating if there could be an emerging broader endemic pattern, which, if unchecked, could barrel into a governance crisis in the country. That is, whether rising aspirations generated by the economic growth seen in recent years will be the underlying issue fuelling more such conflicts, given the tendency of local political influences in using sensitive issues such as reservation as a tool for vote-bank politics. No doubt, social conflict in India is a very complex phenomenon. However, this combination of influences, both economic and political, needs to be faced with a sense of urgency .
From the mid-1990s, the country has touched a higher growth trajectory. The last three years have demonstrated this in no uncertain terms. However, this growth has not been accompanied by a commensurate pick-up in employment. If anything, it has only generated more insecurities and discontent among the have-nots in the country. At the same time, the demonstrated benefits of growth, reflected in growing consumerism, have generated aspirations among a sizeable chunk of the populace. Trapped in poverty or the binds of caste, which deny them opportunity, these segments are ripe for political mobilization.
Nandigram in West Bengal, was a conflict with villagers over the acquisition of land for the setting up of Special Economic Zones. Similarly, villagers threatened with displacement, following South Korean company Posco’s proposal to acquire land in Orissa for a steel plant, resorting to kidnapping three of its executives. If social activist groups are to be believed, then such conflicts are growing in number as industry looks to expand further.
It would need some research to ascertain whether there is such an emerging trend, especially since the ministry of home affairs may not have collated data in such detail, or if it has, may not place it in the public domain.
It is worth noting that violent confrontation is on the rise in India. At one end of the spectrum is the violence unleashed by leftist extremist groups in the country. Together with the insurgency seen across the country—not just in Kashmir and the Northeast— this paints a grim picture. According to the South Asian Terrorism (SATP) Portal, around one-third of the country’s districts are currently afflicted, in differing intensities, by various insurgent and terrorist movements. It says, “In addition, wide areas of the country appear to have ‘fallen off the map’ of good governance, and are acutely susceptible to violent political mobilization, lawlessness and organized criminal activity.” Ironically, political mobilization seems to be at the heart of the Gujjar-Meena conflict.
Unfortunately, the country’s present socio-economic infrastructure continues to be incapable of making growth truly inclusive. The resultant mismatch gives reason for simmering discontent to flare up, when triggers such as one group ‘feeling’ more excluded than another surface. Political parties need to rise above their partisan positions and, at least, work towards minimizing such triggers.
(Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org)