It is a reality of the post-Mandal Indian political landscape that a community in a position of power, in possession of wealth, and votes by strength in numbers, is in need of government reservations. The Mandal Commission in its 1979 report, based on field surveys, and extrapolation of data from the 1931 caste census—the last one with publicly revealed numbers—identified 2,052 castes as socially and economically backward, and eligible for the 27 per cent reservation recommended by it. In that sense, the Mandal commission was a toned down version of the Kelkar committee’s (The First Backward Class Commission) findings. The committee based on the 1931 caste census claimed that 52 per cent of India’s population belonged to the backward class in 1953. It recommended 70 per cent reservation in jobs, a proposal that was rejected by Jawaharlal Nehru who saw this as a measure that would divide the country in the name of caste.Since former prime minister V. P. Singh retrieved the Mandal commission’s report from obscurity and implemented its proposals in 1990, India has seen a competitive tussle among communities to be listed under the OBC category.
Accompanied by mass agitations, violence and political clout, groups have forced state and central governments to acquiesce in all manner of ways. Since opposing reservations is political suicide, the political response has been to accept demands or in the time-honoured way of postponement—form a committee to look into the matter.
The large-scale violence in the Jat protests in Haryana in February that saw 30 people dead and massive destruction in the towns of Jhajjar and Rohtak, is the latest example. It has been a long-standing demand of the politically powerful Jats, one of the few castes in Haryana that are not in the OBC list, to come under the reserved quota. The matter precipitated with the appointment of Manohar Lal Khattar as chief minister in October 2014, the first non-Jat holder of the office in 18 years. Jats feel ignored and belittled by the BJP government, and this has only made their resolve stronger.
In the cover story (“The Fire in Haryana”), Arpit Parashar writes that apart from inept political handling, the state government is responsible for worse: the complete breakdown of administration, the failure to act on intelligence, and the police who chose to flee Rohtak rather than defend it. The Jats, after baring their teeth in the unbridled destruction of property and businesses of non-Jats, may well get the reservation they seek. It will add another chapter to India’s long list of caste wars that get political legitimacy in due course.
Caste nationalism trumps all other kinds.