New Delhi: While the Rajasthan government and Centre continued to blame each other for the Gujjar community’s agitation, which threw life out of gear around the Capital on Thursday, the agitators said they had no other recourse to fulfil the aspirations of the community except by extracting easier access to government jobs and education.
Pitched battle: Protesters pelt security personnel with stones and bricks during a demonstration at Aya Nagar in New Delhi on Thursday. Gujjars had called a bandh in the National Capital Region on Thursday.
Led by Kirori Singh Bainsla, a retired Army colonel, his supporters have blocked the Delhi-Mumbai railway track near Karwadi village in Bharatpur district in Rajasthan over the past week, Rajasthan’s Gujjars have been demanding a social downgrading, from being categorized among other backward classes (OBCs) to scheduled tribes (STs).
Rajasthan recorded a quantum jump in literacy, from 38.60% in 1991 to 60.41% in 2001, according to Census data. However, this rise did not reflect the progress among Gujjars, which is one reason why the community feels left out, said analysts.
Ram Saran Bhati, executive president of the All India Gujjar Mahasabha, which organized the protests around Delhi, said Gujjars in Rajasthan would find it difficult to improve literacy rates, let alone their share in government jobs, without the ST status. In the past decade or so, when the previous government at the Centre included the Jats in the OBC list, the Gujjars have been squeezed out of the benefits of 27% reservation for this category. Bhati said they would prefer to compete in the 7.5% reservation for STs, since the Meenas are the only significant grouping in the list in Rajasthan.
The Gujjars, led by Bainsla, rejected a Rs282 crore welfare package by the state government because they say the ST status would be more beneficial.
Sociologist Dipankar Gupta, professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for the Study of Social Systems, said the hunger for ST status within the Gujjar community was born of the twin challenges — collapse of agriculture and increasing urbanization, and the parallel growth among the Meena community which had benefited through reservation.
“When Gujjars of Rajasthan look around them, they see little hope except in being able to emulate the Meenas. There is little to distinguish between the two communities except that they are placed in different categories, with the result that the Meenas have cornered the benefits of ST reservation,” said Gupta.
In Rajasthan, though, both the ruling BJP and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance at the Centre would not like to court displeasure of other communities, especially the numerically stronger Meenas, by giving in to the demand of the Gujjars just a few months ahead of assembly elections in the state.
Subrata Mukherjee, a professor at the University of Delhi’s department of political science, said the Gujjars were “besieged with a feeling of relative deprivation.” “This agitation was inevitable because reservation has been politicized by both the politicians and the opinion makers,” said Mukherjee.
Bhati said the community had been forced to agitate because everything else had failed since 1986, when they raised the demand. “We didn’t resort to any agitation for a similar demand in Kashmir, which was granted after 20 years in 1992. In Himachal Pradesh, we made the demand first in 2000, and it was granted within three years.”
Rajani Sinha, who teaches economics at the University of Rajasthan, feared that even if the Gujjars were given the ST status, those who needed it the most would not benefit, while the relatively well-off Gujjars in districts such as Bharatpur and Dausa would get wealthier. “Even among the Meenas, many of whom were landlords in districts such as Bharatpur and Dhaulpur cornered the fruits of reservation,” said Sinha, “as a result, there has been little social uplift of the really needy among the Meenas in districts such as Banswara, Udaipur and Dungarpur.”
Kiran Maheshwari, BJP member of Parliament from Udaipur, said it was natural for every community to aspire for jobs since the state government had recruited more than 10 million since 2003. “But if the Gujjars succeed in this blackmail, there are several other communities in Rajasthan that have a better claim to ST status.”