In its last days in power, the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government succumbed to the pressure exerted by the community as also the lure of their significant votes in Haryana, Rajasthan and Western Uttar Pradesh to recommend their inclusion in the central list of 'OBC' or 'Other Backward Castes' in nine states. With months to go for the state polls in 2014, the Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led Congress government in Haryana also created 10 per cent 'socially backward class' (SBC) state-specific reservation for the community.
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The Jats, since 1997, have been demanding reservation in central government jobs. They argued that they might be a landed community but did not have adequate representation in government jobs as well as educationally, that all the communities with whom they have 'hukka-pani' or inter-dining - Ahir, Gujar, Lodha and others - have advanced thanks to being beneficiaries of affirmative action.
A dominant landed peasant community in North India, Jats also argued that shrinking land holdings and diminishing returns from agriculture had led to backwardness of the community.
This was in some contrast to Chaudhary Charan Singh, one of the greatest leaders of Jats who served as the prime minister of the country in 1979-80, having rejected the Mandal Commission recommendations that the community be included among the castes covered under 27 per cent reservations for OBCs.
Charan Singh, in the late 1970s, had argued that Jats were a proud and hard working community which had no need for affirmative action to ensure its advancement. But subsequent Jat leaders found other peasant and landed communities had advanced with the help of reservations in education and jobs.
By 1997, Jat delegations petitioned the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) to include Jats in the central list of backward classes. The demand was rejected primarily because of lack of empirical data to establish Jat backwardness.
In 2011, the UPA II government, of which the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal became a constituent at the fag end of that year, revived the process. It asked the NCBC to reconsider its earlier decisions on the issue of giving Jats OBC status. The NCBC first asked the community to wait for the completion of the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC), but later asked the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) to conduct a comprehensive socio-economic census of Jats. A year later, the NCBC asked the ICSSR to instead conduct a 2 per cent random sample survey.
In 2013, the UPA government constituted a Group of Ministers (GoM) to monitor and expedite the NCBC/ICSSR survey. However, with Lok Sabha elections near and Jats moving towards the Bharatiya Janata Party after the Muzaffarnagar riots of August 2013, the Union Cabinet asked the NCBC to junk the survey and prepare a report on existing material on the socio-economic status of the Jats.
But the NCBC found no reliable data. On February 26, 2014, it conveyed to the then government that it could not possibly recommend OBC status for Jats.
On March 3, 2014, the Union Cabinet found that the NCBC failed to take into account 'ground realities'. It overlooked the NCBC's recommendation and the next day notified the inclusion of Jats in the central OBC list of nine states, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. On March 5, the Election Commission announced election dates and the Model Code of Conduct kicked in.
However, the Supreme Court struck this decision of the Union Cabinet in March 2015 and also dismissed a review petition moved by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government in July 2015. Similarly, the Punjab and Haryana High Court struck down the Hooda government's notification on 10 per cent reservation for Jats in Haryana.
In 2014, the BJP won an unprecedented victory in the Haryana assembly elections on the strength of the 70 per cent non-Jats of the state. The Jats primarily voted for their two leaders, Hooda and Om Prakash Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal.
Now, the Khattar government has constituted a committee under the chief secretary of the state to look into the demands of Jats for reservations. However, any such demand to be conceded will need an empirical basis to identify the 'socio-educational' backwardness of Jats.