Over the years, reservation demands by different groups have flared up across states and, in many cases, resulted in violence.
A list of some of these quota agitations and where they stand now:
The Gujjars, Rajasthan, 2006-19
While the Gujjars had been seeking reservation in jobs and education through inclusion in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) category since at least the mid-1970s, this gained traction in the run-up to the 2003 Rajasthan Assembly elections. During her ‘Parivartan Yatra’, BJP leader Vasundhara Raje promised to fulfill the Gujjar demand if voted to power.
“Raje propped up Gujjar (BJP) leader Ram Gopal ‘Guard’,” says Himmat Singh Gujjar, a former aide of Gujjar reservation agitation architect Colonel Kirori Singh Bainsla, who passed away in March last year.
Raje won, became CM and, after waiting for over a year for her to fulfill her promise, the Gujjar Mahasabha led by Ram Gopal started a protest.
Himmat says as discontent grew with Ram Gopal’s leadership, in March 2006, the Gujjars formed the Rajasthan Gujjar Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti under Bainsla’s leadership. “Bainsla was chosen since he was an Armyman and people generally respect Army persons as upright,” he adds.
The Bainsla-led Gujjar Samiti held its first big protest, a day-long one at Hindon, on September 3, 2006, with uprooting of railway tracks making headlines. “The response was so good that even Gujjar leaders were taken by surprise,” PUCL leader Kavita Srivastava would say in a report in 2008.
With their talks making no headway, the Gujjars started gearing up for another round of agitation by the end of May 2007. As the police tried to prevent them from squatting on the highways, violence and arson ensued, in which 38 people were killed. This round of protest ended after the government gave the Gujjars assurance of reservation under the Special Backward Classes (SBC) category.
When that didn’t happen, in May 2008, Gujjar protesters laid siege to railway tracks again, and the violence that ensued led to the death of 42 people.
After that, till 2019, state governments headed by Raje and Ashok Gehlot bought peace by passing Bills granting Gujjars reservation, with no real chance of overcoming the Supreme Court-imposed ceiling of 50% reservation.
In her 2003-2008 term, Raje did it in the last year in power. With reservation in the state at 49%, in 2008, the BJP government led by her granted a 5% quota to the Gujjars in the SBC category, and then balanced this with a separate 14% quota to Economically Backward Classes (EBCs) among the general category.
With the 50% ceiling breached, there was a legal challenge and a stay on implementation of the Bill.
Saying he saw a better chance at ensuring Gujjar demands “as a politician”, Bainsla joined the BJP in 2009 and contested the Lok Sabha election from Tonk-Sawai Madhopur. He came close, but lost to his Congress rival by 317 votes.
The subsequent Gehlot-led Congress government (2008-13) extended 1% reservation to the Gujjars in the SBC category, keeping within the 50% quota cap.
But, not satisfied, the Gujjar Samiti, which wanted a 5% quota, announced another protest in December 2010. After a month, the government accepted some of the demands.
Then in 2012, the OBC Commission recommended that Gujjars and some other communities be included among the SBCs. The Gehlot government instructed a change of service rules to introduce the additional 5% reservation. In January 2013, the order was stayed by the High Court, because the ceiling was again breached, with total reservation up to 54%.
In 2013, back as CM, Raje passed two Bills in 2015 and 2017, extending reservation to the Gujjars. Both fell foul of the High Court over the quota ceiling.
In 2019, with Gehlot back in the saddle, Bainsla-led Gujjar protesters again laid a siege to railway tracks. This time the Assembly unanimously passed a Bill extending 5% reservation to five communities, including the Gujjars, in educational institutions and government jobs under the More Backward Classes (MBC) category.
This time, the Gehlot government cited the Centre’s constitutional amendment to exceed the 50% ceiling, done to provide 10% reservation to the EWS in the general category. Hence, unlike the previous Bills for Gujjars, Gehlot’s MBC continues to be in effect.
Currently total reservation in Rajasthan stands at 64%: SCs (16 %), STs (12%), OBCs (21%), MBCs (5%) and EWS (10%).
The Patidars, Gujarat, 2015
Two years to go for the 2017 Assembly elections, a demand rose from within the Patidar community, which at 12%-15% of the population formed the backbone of the BJP base in Gujarat then, for OBC status. Only a year earlier, in 2014, Narendra Modi had moved on as Gujarat CM, to become the Prime Minister. Anandiben Patel, a Patidar herself, was the CM.
The agitation started with the submission of memoranda to different state authorities across Gujarat by the Sardar Patel Group (SPG) led by Lalji Patel of Mehsana. But it remained unnoticed till, in July 2015, a mob vandalised the office of local BJP MLA Rushikesh Patel in Mehsana district. The violence also brought forth Hardik Patel, a Lalji aide, who was allegedly part of the mob.
Subsequently, Hardik parted ways with Lalji and floated an informal organisation named the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS). It was PAAS that came to spearhead the agitation across the state.
On August 25, 2015, PAAS held a massive rally, attracting lakhs of Patidars, in Ahmedabad, addressed by Hardik. The gathering turned violent after the police tried to disperse the crowds. Clashes between the police and Patidar mobs followed across the state, with 14 killed, and many booked including for sedition. All this propelled Hardik to become a household name.
By 2016, the Patidars had changed their demand from OBC status to reservation as EWS. After the Gujarat government announced a 10% quota for EWS in May 2016, which was later cleared by the Centre too, the Patidar stir lost steam.
Politically, while the agitation was a big reason why Anandiben had to go as CM, many of the Patidar leaders who spearheaded the stir, including Hardik, are with the BJP now.
The PAAS remains active only to the extent of pressing for its pending demands, like jobs for family members of the 14 youths who were killed during the agitation.
The Jats, Haryana, 2016
The agitation for Jat quota first took place at a small scale in September 2010, when a community youth died and five were injured during police firing near Mayyar village of Hisar district. In March 2011, the agitators blocked a railway track in Hisar for 19 days before a compromise was reached between the then Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led government and agitators.
A Haryana Backward Classes Commission was constituted which, in December 2012, recommended reservation to Jats and four other castes in central as well state government services, which the Hooda government accepted.
In March 2014, the UPA government at the Centre cleared reservation for Jats under the OBC quota.
However, the Supreme Court in March 2015 scrapped reservation for Jats given by the UPA government for nine states. In July 2015, the Punjab and Haryana High Court also restrained Haryana from giving any employment in government jobs under the quota.
In February 2016, the Jat quota stir took a violent turn, leaving 31 dead and several injured, apart from huge damage to property.
Following the stir, in May 2016, the current BJP-Jannayak Janata Party notified 10% reservation in government jobs and institutes of higher education to Jats and five other communities in the state. Within a few days, the reservation provisions were stayed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
In September 2017, the High Court upheld the quota Act. But while the reservation benefits are still hanging in balance, amid legal battles up to the Supreme Court over the issue, there has been no significant agitation on the issue after March 2017.
As Haryana heads for Assembly polls next year, the issue does not have resonance politically either. All India Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti (AIJASS) convenor Yashpal Malik, who led the 2017 agitation, insists: “This is not an issue for the political parties but it is for the youths of the community… Ask any youth in Haryana, and they would say they need reservation.”
However, the AIJASS has itself lost much of its clout due to bitter infighting, while the community has been cautious since the 2017 protest deaths and losses.
Incidentally, later this month, the Yashpal Malik faction of the AIJASS has called for a gathering in Rohtak district to renew the demand for reservation in Haryana and at the Centre ahead of the 2024 Assembly and parliamentary polls.
The AIJASS also wants the over 400 criminal cases lodged during the 2016 Jat agitation and the subsequent violence dropped. In August 2018, the High Court had restrained the Haryana government from withdrawing these cases.
The Kapus, Andhra Pradesh, Jan-Feb 2016
While the demand by Kapus for inclusion in the OBC list had been pending for long, governments in undivided Andhra Pradesh kept putting it off. This changed after Telangana was carved out, and the TDP came to power in June 2014. N Chandrababu Naidu, who became the Chief Minister, had promised to provide Kapus the quota in his poll speeches.
After dragging his feet, in December 2015, Naidu finally set up a Kapu Commission to study the issue. A year later, in January 2016, with the panel moribund, the Kapu community led by Mudragadda Padmanabham held a ‘Kapu Garjana, Chalo Tuni’, at Tuni in East Godavari district, to intensify their demand.
Padmanabham gave a call for agitation, and on January 31, 2016, announced an indefinite ‘rasta roko’, demanding immediate inclusion of the Kapus in the OBC list or a state-wide stir.
The Andhra Pradesh State Kapunadu, the umbrella group of Kapu organisations, which had been negotiating with the TDP government for reservation, did not support the protest. It got the backing of the TDP’s rival, YSR Congress Party.
As thousands of Kapus from several coastal Andhra districts converged, the gathering turned violent. The Chennai–Kolkata National Highway was blocked, as were railway tracks. Ratnachal Express was attacked on arrival at the Tuni station, and the passengers had to run out for safety. An office at the station as well as the Tuni Rural Police Station also saw attacks.
The one and only violent incident in the long Kapu agitation fizzled out after Padmanabham took the blame. There were no other protests or demonstrations later for the Kapu demand.
In February 2016, the TDP government established a Kapu Corporation. It provides benefits to the community, but their demand to be included in the OBC list remains pending.