Can Rajasthan Congress Fix Its Quota Crisis Ahead of Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo?

Quota conundrum has made it tricky to resolve Rajasthan crisis which is now an acid test for Mallikarjun Kharge

5 min read

As the tussle between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his former Deputy CM Sachin Pilot rages on, a quota twist has suddenly deepened the Rajasthan Congress crisis. For years, the state party unit has been split into two warring camps where hostilities flare up on a range of issues – from top leadership to petty posts, and ministerial berths to caste calculations.

The latest battle has erupted over an unlikely issue – anomalies in Other Backward Classes (OBC) quotas due to a change in rules by the previous BJP government in 2018 which allegedly enables ex-servicemen to dominate the quota for OBCs. The initial salvo too came from an unlikely source – Jat leader Harish Chaudhary, generally considered a Gehlot loyalist.

The senior MLA and former Cabinet Minister—Chaudhary is in-charge for Punjab Congress and stood with Gehlot in the prolonged feud with Pilot. But when the state cabinet deferred the quota issue last week, Chaudhary was livid.

How Quota Issue Became a Flashpoint

Mincing no words on his disappointment, he took to Twitter asking “Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, I am shocked; What do you want?” and added, “I assure the OBCs that I will fight whatever battle has to be fought on this issue.”

In reality, Chaudhary has been upset on this quota issue for quite some time. In August, he even sat on dharna in Barmer when community groups under the banner of the OBC Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti held protests on this issue. Chaudhary belongs to the powerful Jat community which, along with other OBC groups, is leading the agitation for the withdrawal of the 2018 notification.

Issued by the former BJP government, the notification of April 17 2018 says, “Reservation for ex-servicemen shall be treated as horizontal reservation and shall be adjusted in the respective category to which the ex-servicemen belong.”

This was a crucial change to the 12.5 per cent quota for ex-servicemen. Earlier this quota was over and above other reservations, such as for SC, ST and OBCs. But after this circular, the ex-servicemen quota runs across all categories on the basis of overall merit.

Ex-Servicemen in Reservation Mix Stirs Controversy

As 55 percent of Rajasthan's population comes from OBCs and a huge chunk of ex-servicemen belong to the same groups, ex-defence personnel take a large share of the 21 percent OBC quota – and OBC leaders claim that lakhs of youngsters lose out since most of the posts now get filled by ex-servicemen. 

Besides Chaudhary, several other Congress MLAs are also upset on the quota question. Pilot loyalist and young MLA Mukesh Bhakar tweeted - “If the government does not take a quick decision in the interest of OBCs, the chief minister will be responsible for the atmosphere that gets created against the government and the party. For me, getting rights for the youth is more important than any post.” Other Jat leaders like Hemaram Choudhary, Divya Maderna, and Krishna Poonia have also urged Gehlot to decide quickly on this matter.

Basically, the Jat lobby wants that ex-servicemen should have a horizontal reservation on the lines of women’s reservation. And Harish Chaudhary has even threatened an agitation against Gehlot if this Quota question is not resolved quickly.

In sharp contrast, many Congress leaders, headed by Minister for Sainik Kalyan, Rajendra Gudha, are strongly opposing any change in the ex-servicemen quota.

Calling it ‘shameful’ that defence personnel are being divided into communities, Gudha contended, “I want to tell my ex-servicemen brothers that the day any assault is made on your rights, I will exit the government. I want to tell the chief minister that if any assault is made on the rights of ex-soldiers, I will resign and stir up a storm.” (‘Eint se Eint bajaa denge’).

Besides Minister Gudha, another Rajput leader of the Congress, Manvendra Singh Jasol has shot off a letter to CM Gehlot urging him not to permit any change in the quota for ex-servicemen. As President of the Sainik Kalyan Salahkar Samiti, Jasol claims that the quota for defence personnel is ‘backed by the Constitution and Supreme Court rulings’ and wants the Gehlot government to “ensure that no injustice is done to ex-servicemen.”


Community Face-Off Over Quota Conundrum

With Jat and Rajput leaders in the state Congress taking diametrically opposite stands, the discrepancy in OBC quotas created by the inclusion of ex-servicemen in the category could snowball into a huge crisis. Besides putting the state government in a tight spot, it threatens to pit two major communities of the state against each other.

As the quota mess deepens, CM Gehlot is scrupulously silent. But in September, he had assured the OBCs of resolving the quota ‘anomalies’ due to which OBC youths face a tough time in getting government jobs. Gehlot even tweeted that “This issue will be resolved at the earliest by taking departmental and legal opinion so that recruitments do not get stuck in judicial process.”

Now, as the clash escalates, Gehlot may be reminded of one of the worst nightmares of his political career – the Jat agitation for OBC reservations in 1999 which dented his popularity and caused major losses for the Congress in Gehlot’s first tenure as chief minister.  

Bharat Jodo Yatra and Fault Lines in Congress Factions

Significantly, this quota quandary has erupted just a fortnight before Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra enters Rajasthan. Factionalism in the state unit is simmering ever since pro-Gehlot MLAs boycotted a Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meet in Jaipur on 25 September to ensure that Sachin Pilot would not get the leadership reins.

Despite notices to three Gehlot loyalists who allegedly organised the revolt, the Congress High Command has taken no action. This led to an outburst from Sachin Pilot who recently asked the party leadership to “end the climate of indecision in Rajasthan.” Now, many in the Pilot camp want the leadership issue to be resolved before the Rahul Yatra enters the state.       

The quota conundrum has made it far more tricky to resolve the Rajasthan crisis which is now an acid test for new president Mallikarjun Kharge and the Congress High Command. With Ajay Maken also quitting as the Rajasthan In-charge, as he is reportedly upset over the September revolt by Gehlot loyalists, the Congress crisis in the state is deepening by the day.

With elections in the state due next year, time is rapidly running out for the Congress - sullen leaders sniping at each other, unsure party cadres, quota frictions and an air of uncertainty is surely no recipe for electoral success.  

(The author is a veteran journalist and expert on Rajasthan politics. Besides serving as a Resident Editor at NDTV, he has been a Professor of Journalism at the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur. He tweets at @rajanmahan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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