Quota Stir: An Agrarian Crisis Is Why Haryana’s Jats Are Hurting 

Agricultural distress is a compelling reason behind Haryana Jats’ demand for OBC status, writes Mayank Mishra.

4 min read
Hindi Female

Years before the advent of social media, in 1988 to be precise, Mahendra Singh Tikait, a Jat and a farmer leader with considerable clout, held a rally in Delhi’s Boat Club which had the then ruling establishment in Delhi extremely worried. In terms of impact on the national psyche, the Bharatiya Kisan Union’s (BKU) at that time was perhaps as successful as the recent anti-corruption movement by Anna Hazare.

After reading reports about the demonstration then, I always intended to visit Tikait’s village in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district to understand his mystique. I got an opportunity to do so only in 2014. Tikait is no more and the organisation that he had founded, the BKU, now headed by his son Naresh Tikait, is struggling to stay relevant.


Diminishing Clout Of Farming Community

After a two-hour interaction with Naresh Tikait, I could sense his despondency. There was a sense of loss of power and influence. Parties still court organisations like the BKU, but it is reduced to just a courtesy call ahead of elections. There is no effort to engage with farmers, take their views on board and tune policies accordingly, he rued. Political marginalisation is perhaps a result of the diminishing clout of farmers even in prosperous regions of Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.

I am now reminded of my conversation with Naresh Tikait as the Jats’ agitation in Haryana seeking inclusion in the other backward class category so they could avail reservation in government jobs and educational institutions spiraled into difficult-to-contain violence.


Shifting Fortunes

  • Diminishing clout of farmers in regions of Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh has led to their political marginalisation.
  • High participation of Jats in agriculture not translating into increased participation of youth in private sector.
  • Shrinking size of landholding combined with rise in input costs adding to the existing farm distress.
  • In the wake of uncertainty in the farming sector, farmers looking up to government jobs as a permanent source of income.
Agricultural distress is a compelling reason  behind Haryana  Jats’ demand for OBC status, writes Mayank Mishra.
Jats block traffic on National Highway 9 during a protest demanding reservation, in Sirsa, February 20, 2016. (Photo: PTI)

Fair Representation In Govt Jobs, Lag In Education

Jats, though politically very influential in Haryana with a population share of 25 per cent, have perhaps lost some of their economic clout because of diminishing returns in the farm sector.

According to a government report, nearly 87 per cent of Jats in the state are engaged in agriculture. Though their representation in class I and II jobs in the state at 21 per cent is at par with the community’s share of population, Jats have lagged behind others in terms of education, both at graduate and post-graduate levels.

Lagging behind in education is perhaps the reason why members of the community have trailed unlike other comparable groups seeking private sector jobs. A study by Ajit Kumar Singh of Lucknow-based Giri Institute of Development Studies, in five districts of western Uttar Pradesh, found that the representation of Yadavs and Gujjars in private sector jobs is higher than that of Jats.

The study found that the proportion of Yadavs and Gujjars was higher at 2.32 per cent and 1.7 per cent, respectively, in private sector jobs compared to just 1.3 per cent for Jats. The situation may not have been very different in Haryana.

Agricultural distress is a compelling reason  behind Haryana  Jats’ demand for OBC status, writes Mayank Mishra.
Jats stage a demonstration seeking Special Backward Class (SBC) status in Gurgaon on February 19, 2016. (Photo: IANS)

Agri Crisis Impacting Most Jats

And the crisis in the agriculture sector is quite well known. For the country as a whole, the average size of landholding has come down from 2.28 hectare in 1970-71 to a mere 1.16 hectare in 2010-11. What is worse, of all operational holdings in India, 67 per cent belong to marginal farmers, who, on an average, own just 0.38 hectare of land. Another 18 per cent holdings belong to small farmers with an average landholding size of 1.42 hectare.

Other than shrinking size of landholding, what would have contributed to rising farm stress is a combination of factors like rise in farm input costs, stable food prices in the last two decades despite episodic price explosion running for months and the recent dip in farm income. Data suggests that in the last two decades, the pace of rise of prices of all agri produce has been slower than the decade preceding it.

Given the way things are, the vast majority of small and marginal farmer households, irrespective of the community they belong to, need income from other sources, possibly secure government jobs, to keep their households afloat. Hence the rising chorus of reservation in government jobs.

In Haryana, Jats have the number on their side. They have been politically very influential too. Now they want this influence to extend to other areas. It is immaterial for them whether members of the community fulfill the criteria of social backwardness or not to avail of the constitutionally mandated reservation.

(The writer is Consulting Editor, Business Standard, and contributes regularly for The Quint on politics and contemporary issues)

Also read:

Jat Stir Is Another Example of Khattar’s Failure at Governance

Haryana Ground Report: The Jat Quota Stir is a “Moochon ki Ladai”

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Topics:  Jat Reservation   Farm crisis 

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