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Volume 24 - Issue 15 :: Jul. 28-Aug. 10, 2007
INDIA'S NATIONAL MAGAZINE
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RESERVATION

Jats as OBCs

V. VENKATESAN
in New Delhi

The NCBC recommended inclusion of only the Jats of Rajasthan in the OBC list for Central services, on objective grounds.

SANDEEP SAXENA

Farmers at a Jat Sammelan in New Delhi. According to a petition filed in the Rajasthan High Court, a survey carried out by the State Commission before 1999 revealed that Jats were not socially and educationally backward.

THE root cause of the recent outburst of Gujjar fury in Rajasthan is traced to the inclusion of Jats in the list of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) for reservation in Central services in October 1999. Gujjars, who had already been listed under OBCs in the State, then began to assert their demand for Scheduled Tribe status as they feared Jats would deprive them of their existing share in the OBC quota.

The Centre’s inclusion of the Jats of Rajasthan in the OBC list was assailed as a political decision taken with an eye on their votes. The issue, however, needs to be examined objectively as the decision followed a reasoned advice to the Centre by the National Commission on Backward Classes (NCBC), a statutory body. (Frontline obtained a copy of the advice under the Right to Information Act.)

The Jats were listed as an OBC through a notification on October 27, 1999, by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. The NCBC had recommended their inclusion in the OBC list in November 1997. The NCBC’s advice is ordinarily binding on the Central government as per Section 9(2) of the NCBC Act, 1993. The Central government is bound to specify the reasons if it chooses to reject the NCBC’s advice, according to the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Indra Sawhney case (1992). So far, the Central government has not rejected any advice of the NCBC’s.

The NCBC advice to the Centre with respect to Rajasthan’s Jats came when the I.K. Gujral-led United Front government was in power. The Gujral government did not take a decision as it found itself in a caretaker role in the run-up to the midterm elections of 1998. The Vajpayee government that succeeded it also delayed a decision in view of the political developments resulting in another round of Lok Sabha elections. Soon after returning to power in October 1999, the Vajpayee government accepted the NCBC’s advice.

The Vajpayee government made a virtue of the necessity to accept the advice and sought to take credit for it with a view to securing Jats’ support in the elections, even though the BJP government in Rajasthan headed by Bhairon Singh Shekhawat had opposed, before the NCBC, the inclusion of Jats in the OBC list.

The NCBC, in its advice, considered in detail the requests for inclusion of Jats in the Central List of Backward Classes for the States of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The advice explained how the Indian peasant castes wallowed in the abyss of social and educational backwardness and were economically exploited by a combination of feudalism and the caste system. That was why, the NCBC suggested, different Commissions and provincial/princely states/State governments, both before and after Independence, had included the peasant castes in their respective lists of backward classes.

At the same time, those Commissions and governments were also generally able to reflect in their lists the reality of the changing socio-economic environment shortly before and during British rule whereby certain peasant castes became exceptions to the general phenomenon of peasant castes remaining socially backward, the advice said. “The Jats are one such exception,” it noted. Fortunately, for Jats, they have been in occupation as the principal peasant caste, mainly of that part of India where the beneficial effects of British rule for the peasantry were maximally felt – namely, Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. The Jats in these areas have all or most of the advantages that derived out of them. They are

*Non-subjection to intermediary tenures such as jagirdari and zamindari, which were both socially and economically debilitating for the peasants;

*Residence in areas not under princely rulers or chieftains belonging to other castes, as most of these areas came under direct British rule;

*Availability of dependable irrigation; and

*Accession of political power during the late medieval and modern period.

Most of the princely rulers of the princely states in the area, which outlived the introduction of direct British rule, belonged to the Jat caste, and this reinforced the social as well as economic position of the Jat peasantry of such princely states.

The NCBC’s advice notes that the Arya Samaj movement, which was against caste-based inequalities and the varna-based hierarchical order, a big following in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. Among the peasant castes, the Jats, in particular, were strong adherents of this movement. “This too gave a positive turn to their attitude and self-esteem and has contributed to a situation in which they are not socially backward in this belt over and above the other socio-historical factors mentioned earlier,” the advice explained.

The NCBC’s advice said:

“Unlike the Jats of U.P., Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, the representatives of Jats of Rajasthan produced a wealth of materials to support their case, both in their response to the NCBC’s questionnaire and through other documents. The NCBC found that the Jats of Rajasthan (except in Bharatpur and Dholpur) had been subjected to the intermediary tenures of jagirdari and zamindari held by non-Jat people of the upper castes till some time after Independence when at last these intermediary tenures were abolished.

“Again, except in Bharatpur and Dholpur, their areas were under native princely rulers or chieftains belonging to other castes, almost all of them were Rajputs, who according to historian Irfan Habib, had emerged by a process of evolution, as a superior landed caste of rural North India. In Rajasthan, the position of the peasant castes as virtually tenants-at-will continued right up to Independence and till some time after Independence, that is, till after the abolition of jagirdari and zamindari rights, unlike the position of Jats in other parts, especially their main territory of western U.P., Haryana and Punjab. In this they are comparable to Yadavas and Kurmis of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which were under oppressive tenurial systems.”

The NCBC further reasoned in its advice: “No doubt, after the effective abolition of jagirdari and zamindari systems, the condition of Jats in Rajasthan have begun to improve, but considering the time-span required for advancement of a community as a whole from a position of backwardness, the time that was available for Jats in Rajasthan (excluding Bharatpur and Dholpur) to move up from a position of social backwardness to that of social advancement, cannot be reasonably considered as adequate. The exceptional circumstances dating at least from the late medieval age through the modern period, which were available for communities like Kamma and Reddy of Andhra Pradesh and the Jats of Punjab, etc., have not been available for Jats of Rajasthan (excluding Bharatpur and Dholpur). The justification that Jats were not included in the Mandal Commission’s list for backward classes for Rajasthan may not be adequate to explain its non-inclusion in the State’s backward classes list.”

Rajasthan is one of the States that did not have an all-purpose list of backward classes. The State simply adopted the Mandal Commission’s list after the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Indra Sawhney case.

The NCBC’s advice had come in for criticism especially because it was contrary to the stand taken before the Commission by the State government and the Rajasthan Backward Classes Commission (RBCC). The State government wanted the NCBC to await the results of a detailed survey of all peasant communities, including Jats, which it had intended to carry out. The NCBC’s answer to this was that it was not fair to keep any community waiting for a decision for such an indefinitely long period in the name of a survey, and that it was difficult to brush aside the feeling of Jats that the survey was being used as a means to deny, or at least to delay, a decision in their case. The NCBC found the State government’s failure to carry out such a survey earlier inexplicable.

Did the NCBC fast-track a decision in the case of Jats, as alleged by Satyanarain Singh, former Member-Secretary, RBCC? Satyanarain Singh quit the State Commission following pressure to include Jats in the State OBC list. Later, he filed a writ petition in the Rajasthan High Court challenging the NCBC’s decision. According to him, a sample survey carried out by the State Commission before 1999 had revealed that Jats were not socially and educationally backward. However, as the results of this survey were not made public, its usefulness in determining the social backwardness of Jats remains a mystery.

The NCBC advice noted that nearly six months had passed after the public hearing in the case. Besides, there were fundamental differences in basic premises and perceptions between the NCBC and the RBCC. “The State Commissions and the NCBC are quasi-judicial bodies which operate independently in their respective spheres under their own procedures and any delay on the part of one or a strong prior perception on the part of one cannot be an obstacle in the way of inclusion of any community in the list of backward classes, based on adequate data/information available, by the other,” the NCBC observed.

P.S. Krishnan, former NCBC Member-Secretary and a member of the NCBC Bench that heard the case in 1997, explained that a survey would be required only when socio-historical evidence was found to be inadequate to decide the matter.

In the case of the Jats of Rajasthan, the evidence was overwhelmingly in their favour, he observed.

Answering the criticism that the NCBC did not find evidence of Jats’ educational backwardness or their inadequate representation in the services as required by the relevant constitutional provisions, he said: “Once social backwardness is established, educational backwardness and inadequate representation in the services could be justifiably presumed.”

It is significant that the same NCBC had rejected requests for conferring OBC status on the Jats of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh. In the case of Haryana, the request-making body, the Haryana Jat Sabha of Hissar, did not even fill up the NCBC’s questionnaire, and this went against them. The NCBC rejected the findings of the Gurnam Singh Commission in Haryana suggesting that Jats were socially more backward than many of the Scheduled Castes, including those who were traditionally associated with scavenging. The NCBC opined that the Jats of Delhi had the advantage of urban and metropolitan residences and of the sharp rise in the value of property and, therefore, were not socially backward.

The NCBC observed that in western Uttar Pradesh large areas were under the “Bhaichara” dispensation, where land was allotted on the principle of equality. After considering a few scholarly works, it concluded that the Jats of Uttar Pradesh were socially advanced. Similarly, it rejected the claim of the Jats of Madhya Pradesh for OBC status, on the grounds that they were of Bharatpur origin and that the Jats of Bharatpur in Rajasthan were found to be advanced like the Jats of western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab.

After the Centre’s notification in 1999, the RBCC changed its stance and recommended inclusion of Jats in the State OBC list. The State’s Congress(I) government under Ashok Gehlot amended the OBC list for State services to include Jats of all districts (including Bharatpur and Dholpur), disagreeing with the NCBC’s reasoned advice to the Centre to keep the Jats of these two districts out of the list.



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