New Delhi: The Gujjar agitation demanding five per cent reservation in education and jobs in Rajasthan entered its fifth day on Tuesday with the unrest growing in size and spreading across the state.
With no conclusive dialogue between the Rajasthan government and leaders of the community, Gujjars continued their sit-in on the railway track in Sawai Madhopur along with several other national and state highways, leading to further disruptions along the routes of the protests.
Protesting Gujjars, led by Kirori Singh Bainsla, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Indian Army and face of the caste stir in the state, have occupied the major Delhi-Mumbai railway route in Sawai Madhopur.
The sit-in that started on Friday has resulted in multiple train delays, diversions and cancellations. Ten trains scheduled to run on Monday were cancelled owing to the protests. Twelve trains scheduled to run on Tuesday and 15 trains on Wednesday are set to be cancelled as well.
The stir that began with people occupying the Delhi-Mumbai train route is growing in size by the day. About eight to ten thousand people sit on the tracks in Maksoodanpura near Malarna Dungar in Sawai Madhopur during the day.
On Monday, protestors occupied several major highways in Rajasthan as well. “This is happening across the state. Jaipur-Agra is closed, Jaipur-Delhi is getting closed, Pushkar-Bikaner is getting closed and Udaipur is getting closed. Gujjars are all across Rajasthan and wherever they are, they will block the highways,” Vijay Bainsla, son of Colonel Bainsla, told News18.com.
Shailendra Singh, general secretary of the Gujjar Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti, who is also protesting at the railway track near Malarna station, said the community was left with no option. Blocking the major Delhi-Mumbai route was the best way to draw the government’s attention.
According to him, around five state highways and three national highways have been blocked by the agitators. “If our demands are not met, this protest will spread to NCR, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana,” Singh said.
The community has for long been demanding five per cent reservation in government jobs and colleges in the state.
In 2007, five people, including a policeman, were killed in violence that erupted during an agitation in Patoli. The same year, Colonel Bainsla led a ‘jail bharo’ agitation in Bharatpur and later, the protestors removed the railway track between Dumaria and Fatehsingpura.
In May, 2008, police open fired at various places and killed 16 Gujjar agitators during the ‘rail roko’ agitation in Peelupura. Twenty more protestors were killed in police firing at Sikandra in Dausa district.
After multiple agitations and negotiations, Colonel Bainsla reached an agreement with the government for one per cent reservation to Gujjars in the Special Backward Class (SBC) category within the 50 per cent reservation limit.
The remaining four per cent reservation was put on hold till the court reached a verdict.
The Rajasthan high court later struck down five per cent reservation for Gujjars, Raikas, Banjaras, Rebaris and Gadia Lohars.
Colonel Bainsla is now leading the group of people occupying the tracks in Sawai Madhopur. His son maintained that people would not move from the tracks and roads until their reservation demands were met.
“The Congress before coming to power made a commitment to the people, stating that they will give us five per cent reservation if they form the government. Now it has come to power, but is dilly-dallying,” Bainsla junior said.
The Gujjar leader said reservation for the community was a part of the Congress manifesto and often featured in speeches ahead of elections. “We are just holding them to their promises that is all. It is a very legitimate cause.”
The Congress election manifesto had indeed mentioned that the party would work to ensure Gujjars get reservation.
The first point under the Social Development, Social Justice and Empowerment section of the manifesto read, “Congress had taken the governor’s signature on the reservation bill and made it into a law that Gujjars, Raikas, Banjaras and Gadia Lohars get five per cent reservation legally under Special Backward Classes (SBC). Congress is committed to ensure the same.”
However, Bhanwar Lal Meghwal, the minister for social justice and empowerment, laid emphasis on the word ‘legally’ present in the promise.
“If you read it carefully, it says legally authorized five per cent reservation,” the minister said.
Meghwal said the government was holding talks with Colonel Bainsla and sought patience from the community.
“It has only been 45/50 days of the new government. These things don’t happen in a day. They should be patient and should not sit on railway tracks right away. They should not disrupt law and order.”
The minister appealed to the community to maintain peace and order and assured of continuing the dialogue between.
He also appeared to pass the buck on reservation to the Centre. “This is at a government of India level. If they gave 10 per cent reservation to the general category, they can provide five per cent reservation to the Gujjar community as well,” he told News18.com.
Singh, however, said the Congress was now backtracking on its promises made ahead of the assembly polls. “Gujjars are not asking a nationwide reservation, this is just for Rajasthan,” he said.
Singh said the economically weaker section (EWS) quota bill was passed through both the houses of Parliament without any snag and the Supreme Court did not put a stay on it as well.
Reservation for Gujjars, on the other hand, has hit roadblocks despite over a decade of struggle. “The entire process (for EWS reservation bill) was completed in six days. We have been agitating for 14 years. Seventy-three of our community members have been martyred in the stir through the years. And we still haven’t got justice of five per cent reservation,” Singh said.
When the reservation bill granting 10 per cent quota for upper caste EWS was passed, the Gujjar community gave the Rajasthan government an ultimatum of 20 days to show a similar initiative and launched its agitation after the deadline came to an end.
On Saturday, the Rajasthan government constituted a three-member committee of ministers to look into the matter. Meghwal was a part of the committee. One of the members of the committee went to Bainsla and protesting Gujjars to try and mediate, but, according to Shailendra, the talks failed.
“One of the representatives came to us, but he had no proposal or a concrete solution. So his visit was fruitless. Since then, no one has approached us,” he said. “The government is not serious at all.”
Raghu Sharma, minister for health, information and public relations departments, and also a part of the three-member committee, held a meeting with chief minister Ashok Gehlot on Tuesday and was unavailable for comment.
Efforts to reach deputy chief minister and state Congress committee president Sachin Pilot were also in vain.
Pilot, who belongs to the Gujjar community, had personally promised to ensure reservation for the group ahead of the state polls, Singh said.
“The PCC chief, in a public meeting in Karauli, had said the Congress would give five per cent reservation upon forming government in the state. Gujjars now feel cheated,” Singh said.
“We formed the Congress government in the state. So of course we have expectations,” he added.
Pilot, a popular leader in the community and face of the Congress for the last five years in the state, is now drawing fire from Gujjars who voted for the Congress in droves in December.
Bainsla said Pilot is nowhere to be seen now. “He is not with the people and it does not seem that he is a part of (the community). People here are searching for him, we made him whatever he is today. He could have fought elections from Shekhawati or any other place that did not have Gujjar votes, but he contested from a place which is a Gujjar vote bank. So now that we have voted for him, we are expecting him to do something. But he is absolutely silent. We haven’t heard anything from him and the community is full of angst.”