The agitation launched by the Gurjjar Arak-shan San-gharsh Samiti (GASS) went out of hand. Since political parties are scared of opposing demands raised by any caste or community, irrespective of the merits of the case, the agitators received political sympathy even though they indulged in violence and arson from day one. Once on the job, the Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje demonstrated rare dexterity to make the GASS leaders see reason and withdraw their agitation. The government quoted field reports from 33 districts that showed only two districts?Dausa and Sawai Madhopur?favoured the grant of ST status to Gurjjars. Realisation dawned on GASS that it couldn'tcarry on the agitation for long without inviting trouble, including physical assaults from the Meena community that put up stiff resistance and resorted to social boycott of Gurjjars. The announcement of compensation to the next of kin of those killed in police firing helped in bringing down tempers. The Chief Minister and leaders of GASS can justifiably claim credit for working out reconciliation without rancour.
There is merit in the charge that the police force buckled down because of lack of leadership from the top brass and let the rowdy mobs have a field day. The situation was brought under control only after the army was deployed to assist the civil administration. The Supreme Court took a serious view of the failure of the police to maintain law and order in Rajasthan, Haryana, UP and Delhi that encouraged mobs to indulge in violence and arson. Those found guilty of laxity and rowdies who indulged in violence and arson should be sternly dealt with.
Several myths were floated to damn the BJP. Commentators and editors blamed Rajasthan BJP for ?forgetting? the promise in its 2003 election manifesto to give ST status for Gurjjars. The party and the government failed to nail the lie till party MP Manvendra Singh in a newspaper article challenged the premise and said there was no commitment from the BJP to include the community as ST in its manifesto for 2003. Hindustan Times in a report came out with the information that Raje had told two groups of Gurjjars during the fag end of the campaign that she would ?look into? the demand. The report, however, admitted that the issue didn'tfigure in the BJP manifesto or poll campaign. Media has a crucial role to play in conflict resolution. Unfortunately it failed to perform its duty. Media was full of reports of social boycotts and inter-caste clashes and TV channels competed with each other to telecast clippings of mob violence again and again. How did it serve any social purpose? No one is advocating that bad news should be killed and one is totally against government control over media. However, media must realise that by not exercising restraint and self-regulation, it is inviting trouble from governments.
What has the community gained from week-long violent agitation at the cost of 30 deaths, inter-caste clashes, massive destruction of public and private property, disruption of rail and road traffic and normal life in parts of Rajasthan and neighbouring areas? A three-member commission headed by a former high court judge to examine the demand of GASS to include the Gurjjars in the ST category and report within three months of its findings are ?gains? that are nothing to write home about. Social boycotts and bitterness created between communities are a national shame. Quota wars unleashed by reservation mania threaten social harmony and national integration. Obviously the reservation policy in its present form and the manner in which it is implemented are flawed and has failed to achieve its declared objectives. Further there is no reliable and scientific data on the present social, economic and educational status of various communities to justify their placement in a particular category to enable them to enjoy ?benefits? of reservations. A caste-wise census to streamline the system of reservation has been suggested. Such a census may provide the government with a reliable data but the exercise has serious political and sociological implications. Apprehensions that such a census will further deepen the caste-divide in the already fragmented Indian society need to be addressed.
Arguably caste and community identities are very strong in our society yet there is no history of caste wars in India. While almost all political parties have played the caste politics to serve their narrow political interests, two politicians?V.P. Singh and Arjun Singh?are the villains of the piece. They played vicious and dirty roles in deepening the caste divide. V.P. Singh who came to power on the platform of cleansing politics unleashed the genie of reservations for his political survival. The cunning Raja didn'tobserve the political decency of taking into confidence the parties supporting his minority government from outside before announcing the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report that had been gathering dust for years. The tiger he rode ate him up and his rejection by the people is complete as demonstrated in recent UP elections where his party couldn'twin a single seat. Union HRD Minister Arjun Singh is no less guilty of reviving the spectre of caste wars by his controversial decision to introduce reservations of OBCs in quality education institutions for higher learning. A fate similar to that of V.P. Singh awaits the aging and scheming secular fundamentalist.
Founding fathers of the Constitution provided reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes initially for 10 years in the belief that these communities that were historically discriminated against would be brought at par with the rest of the society. The reservations have been extended for another period of 10 years after every lapse of the period. Although sections of SC and ST did benefit from reservation, the benefits did not trickled down to the lowest strata of these communities. It is largely because socially, economically and politically powerful sections of the SC, ST and backward communities have manipulated the system to their own benefit. This is causing great resentment among those who are at the bottom of the social pyramid. The government has not initiated any process to exclude creamy layer among the beneficiary castes and communities despite orders from the apex court. Obviously both the concept and the implementation of the policy are flawed. There is a need to think out of the box to come up with an alternative affirmative action in the interest of equity and fairness. Reservations based on caste, community and religion have only exacerbated the problem of social and economic inequalities. Although the policy of reservation is per se bad, the other option of economic backwardness deserves to be given a chance.