A quiet crisis in north India

A quiet crisis in north India

Away from the high-decibel debates in Parliament, a quiet law and order crisis has been brewing in north India for some time now. The Jats of Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have been demanding reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. To press their demands, they have disrupted rail and road traffic across many parts of these states. So much so that a high court has had to intervene in the matter and the Union government convened a meeting of its crisis management group on Monday.

A first impression, albeit misleading, would be that this is one of the many agitations for government jobs that periodically arise in different parts of the country. This could be erroneous as it is not a simple demand for a “share in the pie" but reflects a bigger failure.

The Jat community is predominantly involved in agriculture and in the districts where it predominates, owns the bulk of the land. It is also the dominant caste in these areas. In Haryana and Punjab, Jats control the levers of political power. When seen in terms of deprivation—economic and political— the community comes nowhere close to the dalits and many of the other backward classes (OBCs). In comparison with other communities making similar demands—the Gujjars, to cite one example—their grouse seems quite out of order. So, at a first brush, it is curious that Jats should demand reservation.

Much of this story has to do with fears about the future. These regions have witnessed declining returns in agriculture: even a good performing state such as Punjab is experiencing problems. An agricultural boom that has fuelled aspirations is fading. In terms of education and the skills required to secure good work in a modern economy, this part of the country could well be termed medieval. This is the “demand" side of the social situation.

On the “supply" side, few, if any, good companies want to open shop in these parts. Apart from the law and order and governance issues (especially in eastern Uttar Pradesh), the problem remains the same as the “demand" side: there is hardly any skilled pool of workers and managers to tap from. In Haryana, a slightly better state in this respect, an enclave economy of sorts is developing: Apart from Gurgaon (where, tellingly, there have been few such protests) the state is hardly distinguishable from Jat-dominated parts of Rajasthan and UP.

This is not a problem that can be solved easily or quickly for that matter. Even if the Jats are handed some reservation, the number of government jobs is hardly sufficient to fulfil the aspirations of the lakhs of youth in the community. Today, it’s north India, tomorrow it could be elsewhere. The solutions are there for all to see, but there are hardly any signs of the will to make a beginning.

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