India: Haryana on edge as ongoing Jat agitation raises fears of last year's violence
They are also demanding the dropping of cases lodged against youths for last year's agitation, the release of those lodged in jail, and compensation and government jobs for the next of kin of those killed in last year's agitation. Photograph: (ANI)
Haryana is on the edge as the ongoing Jat agitation seeking reservation in education and government jobs has once again raised the spectre of last year's violence that killed 30 people.
Members of the Jat community have been sitting on dharnas in 19 of the state's 22 districts since January 29.
The fresh protests come at a time when Haryana is observing golden jubilee of its formation.
The images of mobs setting houses, schools, eateries and other places on fire during last year's quota agitation are still fresh in public memory.
The Delhi-Ambala National Highway, the gateway for travel to Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, had remained blocked for days.
The Manohar Lal Khattar government had drawn flak from various quarters, including the opposition, for its alleged inept handling of the situation last year.
A complete breakdown of the official machinery was witnessed between February 19 and 22 last year.
Members of the community have been staging dharnas in 19 of the state's 22 districts since January 29. Last year, there had been a complete breakdown of the state machinery between February 19 and 22
Later, a committee headed by former Uttar Pradesh DGP Parkash Singh probed the acts of omission and commission of officers during the Jat quota violence and indicted several officers for not taking appropriate steps, thus allowing the situation to worsen.
As many as 1,196 shops were set ablaze, 371 vehicles torched, 30 schools/colleges were burnt, 75 houses were set on fire, 53 hotels/marriage palaces were devastated, 23 petrol pumps were attacked and vandalised, the committee had observed in its report.
An industry body had pegged the loss at around Rs 34,000 crore in last year's violence.
The mode of protests this year is giving sleepless nights to the first ever BJP government in Haryana, a state carved out in 1966.
Despite the government assuring the Jats that it will do whatever possible within the ambit of the law and the agitation leader promising that the stir will be peaceful, the growing number of protesters with each passing day is proving a tightrope walk for the Khattar government, which does not want to allow a repeat of last year's situation.
Notably, opposition parties -- the Indian National Lok Dal and the Congress -- have given their support, asking the Khattar government to fulfil the promises it had made to the Jat community.
Jats are demanding reservation in government jobs and educational institutions, besides withdrawing of criminals cases registered against several youths of the community during last year's agitation, release of those lodged in jail, and compensation and government jobs to the next of kin of those killed in last year's agitation.
Like last year, this year too the epicentre of the stir is Rohtak, Sonipat, Hissar and Jhajjar districts.
The All-India Jat Aarakshan Sangarsh Samiti (AIJASS) is spearheading the fresh stir and is being led by its national president Yashpal Malik (55), who hails from Uttar Pradesh and has no link with Haryana.
Last year, Haryana Police had slapped a sedition case against him. However, Malik has been active and has been criss-crossing the state this year during fresh round of the stir to drum up support.
The Haryana government's decision to grant reservation to Jats and five other communities in jobs and educational institutions under the newly created Backward Class 'C' category was challenged last year after a PIL was filed in this regard before the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
The PIL was filed by a Bhiwani resident, who challenged the constitutional validity of the Haryana Backward Classes (Reservation in Services and Admission in Educational Institutions) Act, 2016, passed by the assembly on March 29 last year.
The Act provides 10 per cent quota in Class III and IV posts and educational institutions and six per cent quota in Class I and II posts to Jats, Jat Sikhs, Rors, Bishnois, Tyagis and Muslim Jats in Schedule-III.
The government has been trying to defend its quota law since. While reservation continues to be the main demand of the Jats, the protesters are also putting pressure on the government for other demands as well.
The state had last year enacted a law for providing reservation to Jats in consultation with all stakeholders, but later on the court has stayed it and now the matter would have to be dealt with in a legal manner only, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has said.
The state government has appointed a senior advocate to plead the case in the court, Khattar had said earlier.
"Once the stay is vacated, the state government would request the Centre to include the Act (granting reservation to Jats and others) in the 9th Schedule," he said.
The Khattar government has also announced a fresh compensation, this time for "innocent persons" who were injured during the 2016 Jat reservation stir.
The BJP government in the state had last week formed a five-member committee, headed by Chief Secretary D S Dhesi, to hold talks with the agitating Jats.
Recently, a meeting between representatives of a Haryana government-appointed committee and leaders of the Jat agitation remained inconclusive.
The fresh round of stir is a sort of tightrope walk for the BJP government, which does not want to let the law and order situation get out of hands this time, even as it is wary of taking any strict action that alienates the predominant Jats totally.
In view of the fresh Jat stir, paramilitary forces have been deployed in sensitive areas, while the state police is maintaining a strict vigil.