To douse fires when the first spark is lit does not come easily to politicians. No, not here in India, nor anywhere else in the world. Politicians live for today. But given that their today is never without a whole lot of nerve-wracking problems, those generously disposed might excuse their lack of interest in the early warning signals emanating about the troubles ahead.
History is witness to the incontrovertible fact that Jawaharlal Nehru was deaf to dire warnings over China and Kashmir. From Sardar Patel to J.B. Kriplani, a number of senior figures in the public sphere had spoken of the need not to be too trustful of this business of Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai. But Nehru was on a trip of his own, smug in reclaiming for himself the leadership of the emerging Third World, even as China sharpened the knife on the border.
We can list a whole lot of problems which have now become intractable, from Kashmir to the Mandir-Masjid dispute—why even the continuing Hindu-Muslim divide with all its attendant repercussions, in all honesty, is the bitter legacy of a leadership, which, having first partitioned the sub-continent on communal lines, did not fully follow through on it.
Unfortunately, those who are in the business of deifying the Republic’s first Prime Minister, do a great disservice to the younger generations by failing to take note of his numerous Himalayan blunders. The closet admirers of the Dynasty uncritically assess Nehru in the mistaken belief that, thus, they obliquely castigate the competing worldview of the RSS-BJP. Truth, however, may lie somewhere in between these clashing beliefs and philosophies.
The above somewhat lengthy preface is meant to spotlight the fast building threat of a potential conflagration unless urgent steps are taken to nip the problem in the bud. The latest warning has come from Mumbai. A huge procession of Marathas brought the commercial megapolis to a halt a couple of days ago. Of course, this wasn’t the first time they had given notice to the political class of their intent to seek a share in the national cake. Feeling increasingly marginalised in the state’s agrarian economy, and virtually disqualified for the job market thanks to the SC-ST reservations, the once proud middle castes have raised the banner of protest against the flawed economic and social order.
Though they have not thus far demanded a repeal of the special provision of jobs and seats in educational institutions for the SC-STs and the OBCs, if the political class turns a deaf ear to their baleful cries, it wouldn’t be long before their agitation spirals out of control. Only a few months ago, the Jats in Haryana had given an early glimpse of what could go wrong if the politicians continue to behave ostrich-like and refuse to undertake a drastic review of the current system of reservations.
Of course, nobody can dare suggest that the existing beneficiaries of reservations be denied the same—though the Founding Fathers wanted these to last only for a period of ten years, Jagjivan Ram’s grandchildren continue to wallow in special privileges seven decades after the founding of the Republic. Yet, some modus vivendi has to be evolved to douse the embers of protests in Gujarat, Rajasthan, western UP, Haryana and, of course, Maharashtra.
To their credit, the Marathas have so far been peaceful, marching in orderly files of twos and threes in South Mumbai, without any kind of lawlessness. It may be because the agitation is spearheaded by those who have had nothing to do with politics. The protest-leaders have steered clear of both groupings in Maharashtra, having first launched the stir when the Congress-NCP was in the saddle in Mumbai.
Now it is the turn of the BJP-Shiv Sena to grapple with the growing Maratha unrest. Periodic drought and farmer suicides only hide the real story, that is, agriculture can no longer support everyone who lacks an alternative source of livelihood—shrinking holdings and growing families make that impossible. Maratha boys and girls want jobs, and government jobs at that. But there are not too many jobs going around. The widespread grievance that jobs are hogged by the SCs-STs, whose economic condition has improved while that of the dominant middle castes has deteriorated, further inflames passions.
Given that the Patidars in Gujarat and the Jats in Haryana, UP and Rajasthan too have been seeking a share in the economic pie, it will be a folly to ignore these early warnings of the coming social and economic upheaval. Sops such as those announced by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis following last week’s Maratha protest only patch over the problem. Hitherto dominant castes in the rural hinterlands feel left out thanks to the policymakers’ failure to integrate the village and town economies. The growing unrest in the countryside cannot be settled by band-aid solutions, or by fobbing off with promises of reservations which predictably are rejected by the courts.
Of course, the unrest has been growing due to the wrong economic and social policies of successive governments. Unless the entire political class rises above partisan concerns, summoning requisite wisdom and strength in order to privilege larger national interest over partisan concerns, the time-bomb ticking in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana , Rajasthan, et al is bound to explode sooner than anyone realises. In short, no time is to be wasted on having a serious re-look at the entire system of reservations.
And before the partisans begin to howl that the reservations are being abandoned—as the Congress had falsely raised the red flag when A.B. Vajpayee merely wanted a review of the governing system by a widely respected former judge of the apex court—they will have to be persuaded that, otherwise, the existing benefits for the socially and economically weaker classes could be in jeopardy as the new claimants on the national cake overwhelm the system. Statesmanship is needed to nip the Maratha, Patidar, Jat trouble in the bud.
ONE CAUGHT, ONE TO GO
Politicians are suckers for sycophancy. Otherwise, fixers and middlemen wouldn’t be able to gain access to their durbar. An otherwise clued-up BJP leader, who runs a very tight ship, indeed, seems to have tripped, falling for the chamchagiri of a couple of TV journalists only to belatedly realise that the two were no party loyalists, only freelance money-making racketeers pretending to be life-long Sanghis. They freely “wheeled-and-dealed” in the previous regimes as well. Well, one of them got caught red-handed the other day, while his boss somehow managed to escape.
But there is no denying that all these years the duo operated in unison, feeding falsehoods to ruling politicians to grind their own axe, pointedly abusing fellow journalists who openly disapproved of their misdoings, and generally acting as commission agents for all manner of favour-seekers. The two seemed to be the confidants of the top cogs in the present ruling dispensation, even getting election tickets for their clients, and generally throwing their weight around in the business and media circles. After the exposure of their racket a couple of days ago, expect the two to lie low for some-time before finding a new patron to feed their lifestyle.