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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 25

Harbinger of Genuine Change?


Saturday 9 June 2007, by SC


After weeklong violence the Gujjar unrest has abated for the present with the success of the negotiations the leaders of the agitation held with the Vasundhara Raje Government in Rajasthan. By all indications it is a temporary reprieve for the State administration but a valuable breathing space. It is most welcome given the ferocity of the Gujjar indignation which prompted the Supreme Court to describe the arson and vandalism accompanying the stir in Rajasthan, Haryana, UP and Delhi in general and the blockade of Delhi in particular as constituting a “national shame”.

Having made a promise to the Gujjars before the 2003 State Assembly elections to help them win Scheduled Tribe status the BJP Government in the State was forced to tackle not just the Gujjar agitation centring on the ST demand, but also the problem of the politically influential Meena community’s opposition to sharing the ST status with the Gujjars. The Meenas too launcheda counter-agitation against the Gujjar demand. In the circumstances prolonged instability stared both the BJP Government in the State and the UPA Government at the Centre in the face. The police action against the Gujjar agitation also complicated matters. The police, of course, cannot be expected to exercise restraint beyond a point. Even without real provocation it frequently bares its fangs as was witnessed in Nandigram only in the recent past.

Gujjars are notified as OBCs in Rajasthan but they want to be reclassified as STs because the Jat community having been given the OBC status some years ago the latter extract a large chunk of the OBC quota, and Gujjars feel left out and insecure; that is why the Gujjars in Rajasthan have been opting for a lower status which (that is, ST) status the Gujjars in Himachal and J&K (where they are mainly Muslim) already enjoy.

In a well-argued article on the Gujjar problem a BJP MP pointed out that “when a Gujjar sees no difference between him and the Meena in a ‘ritual’ sense, but enormous differences in both economic and political, the seeds of resentment are sown”.

Another writer, a senior journalist, has written:

Objectively speaking, a political crisis has to be resolved politically with clarity of related issues, keeping in view the complexities of our fragmented social fibre. The tragic happenings at Dausa and beyond are yet another grim reminder to the nation of failures in reservation and related policies, vote bank-linked instant promises, non-governance, insensitive non-focussed leadership, faulty power management, a colonial mindset of the police force and a weak social fabric that lead people to a violent path.

He has also raised a pertinent question: “I sn’t it curious that a proud community should seek a lower scale of categorisation in the reservation graph since they think that this will ensure them a higher share in jobs?”

What has now been decided is the setting up of a committee headed by a retired High Court judge to consider the Gujjars’ claim for inclusion in the ST list. This has helped to defuse tensions. Of course, the problem of matching the Gujjars’ aspirations with the Meenas’ apprehensions cannot possibly be wished away. This the Vasundhara Raje Government will have to grapple with in the coming days. But it is going to be an uphill task in the wake of the sharp polarisation between the Gujjars and Meenas witnessed even within the Rajasthan Ministry. And along with the issue of addressing the Gujjar demand for ST status another question has inexorably come up: if this status is to begiven to the Gujjars what about the more exploited and deprived communities like the Kalbelias, Raikas and Sansis? Why should they be denied ST status? Such questions need to be taken up in right earnest by all concerned and answers explored on the basis of well-defined criteria.

Nevertheless, the accord stemming from the political negotiations, even if of a temporary nature, is definitely a positive development that would hopefully help create favourable conditions for reaching a durable settlement on the major issue under scrutiny.

At the other end of the country, in West Bengal, the substantive discussions between CPM patriarch Jyoti Basu and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee on how to help bring back normalcy in Nandigram while meeting the Opposition’s demands in Singur also highlight the urgency on all sides to find a reasonable settlement on basically the land issue in the context of large tracts being leased out to foreign or Indian companies to set up SEZs or to indigenous industrial houses for installing plants. Jyoti Basu’s forthright response to Mamata’s demands gives rise to the impression of the CPM having second thoughts on the way in which land was sought to be snatched frompoor farmers. It is too early to say how the CPM hotheads in the State party leadership would eventually react to Basu’s exercise, but the nonagenarian leader’s earnest endeavours for a solution deserves acclamation by all those who have the interests of the toiling populace at heart.

Meanwhile the Goa Assembly elections have once again failed to produce a decisive verdict even as the next government is to be formed by the Congress-NCP combine which has won 19 seats as against 14 secured by the BJP. The latter was banking on rampant infighting in the Congress to capture the Assembly but if victory has eluded it this time, it has itself to blame. Interestingly in these polls environmental issues acquired considerable prominence thanks to the tireless efforts of Goa’s Green groups even if they failed to make a mark electorally. Against the backdrop of the World Environment Day this phenomenon is doubtless noteworthy.
These are definite signs of hope in different parts of the country. Could these straws in the wind become the harbinger of a genuine change for the better in the days ahead?

June 6 S.C.

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