Hundreds of Gujjars blocked the Delhi-Mumbai railway line (photo: HT)
The Gujjar community has once again launched an agitation for reservation in government jobs, blocking train tracks and key roads in Rajasthan. Gujjar leader Col Kirori Singh Bainsla asked community members to “fight to the finish”, in a familiar demand to extract quotas from the state government.
Over 72 people have been killed since 2007 when the Gujjars, who form 7 percent of Rajasthan’s population, launched an agitation demanding 5 percent reservation in government jobs and educational institutions.
On Thursday hundreds of Gujjars squatted on the Delhi-Mumbai railway line at Pilupura in Bharatpur district, while agitators also blocked key roads.
“The protesters have damaged parts of the railway track by removing the fishplates,” Bharatpur collector Ravi Jain told the Indian Express.
“Justice delayed is justice denied. The chief minister had promised during the elections that all efforts would be made to give reservation,” said Bainsla, chairman of the Gujjar Arakshan Sanghrash Samiti.
Bainsla has called a mahapanchayat at Samogar in Bharatpur, around 200 km from Jaipur, even as the state government opened back channel talks to sort out the issue.
Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje said the government was ready for talks with community leaders.
“What is the point of blocking railway tracks without even talking to the government? We are always ready for talks. We believe in taking all 36 kaums (communities) together and want to protect the interests of everyone,” Raje told the media.
The Gujjar community’s agitation first began with a demand for Scheduled Tribe status – this was revived in 2008 and again in 2010.
In 2012 the previous Congress administration granted 5 percent reservation to the community, but this got stuck in court as it exceeded the 50 percent reservation limit set by the Supreme Court.
Gujjar leaders then came up with a creative solution: they demanded 5 percent reservation in the Special Backward Classes category, within the 50 percent reservation limit.
"We want 5 per cent reservation under the legal limit of 50 per cent. The governments have been cheating us for the last several years. We are presently getting only 1 percent and we want 4 percent more," Bainsla told Indian Express.
Perhaps the community’s interests would be better served by asking for better educational institutions and healthcare instead.
In March the Supreme Court had dismissed the previous UPA administration’s pre-poll attempt to include the politically influential Jat community in the central Other Backward Classes (OBCs) list, saying it amounted to “retrograde governance”.
The verdict made it clear that caste-centric reservation was outdated and turned the spotlight to the politics of reservation often played in the most blatant manner just before elections.