The ongoing agitation by the Gujjar community for scheduled tribe (ST) status has thrown life in Rajasthan and its neighbouring states out of gear. It has not only hurt that state’s economy, but also shows the government was not serious in resolving a difficult situation.
In the last bout of agitation in May-June 2007, the cost to Rajasthan’s economy was estimated at Rs12,000 crore. This affects trade and commerce in contiguous areas as well. During those protests, Agra’s leather industry lost valuable trade as the flow of raw materials such as animal hides from the state stopped. This year, tourism has been hit hard, though reliable estimates of losses are yet to emerge. Hurting the economy is hurting the prospects of those who live in the state.
In most instances, demands for greater job reservations have occurred in states where the economy has failed to provide opportunities to large swathes of the population. In a fast growing economy such as India, good education is key to economic success. But in the relativelybackward districts of Rajasthan, this is a scarce commodity. This leads to a get-what-you-can attitude, and low-level administrative jobs in government are the first option.
This is not the end of the story, but its beginning: The jostling between communities for a larger share of such jobs is intense. The Gujjars, who are classed as other backward classes (OBCs), have to face competition from the slightly better-off Jats, who corner a lion’s share of OBC jobs.
This is at the root of the fight to get into the ST category. The competition for jobs among STs is much less serious: With graduates being a small fraction of the ST population, the Gujjars have a much better chance to corner jobs in that category.
Such a situation defies any immediate solution. The state government writing to the Centre to let the Gujjars be included in the ST category is not an answer. This has more to do with electoral considerations than anything else. If this works for the Gujjars, there will be more such demands. A “solution” along these lines will only create more problems. The way out, not only in Rajasthan but elsewhere, too, is to create better educational and economic opportunities.
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