By Faraz Ahmad
New Delhi : The violent turn taken by the Gujjar agitation has put further pressure on Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje Scindia, already under attack from within her Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over a calendar projecting her as goddess.
The Gujjars of Rajasthan, classified as backward community, are up in arms demanding to be placed in the category of Scheduled Tribes (STs).
BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "This incident is unfortunate. We want peace to return in which all should cooperate. As far as the demand for granting the ST status to the Gujjar community is concerned, it is the prerogative of parliament under Article 342.
"There are 32 districts in Rajasthan in which Gujjar population is predominant. Of these, reports from 26 districts have come about the social status of Gujjars. Reports from four districts are still awaited. As soon as all reports are in, the state government will send the recommendations to the centre."
Rasa Singh Rawat, BJP MP from Ajmer, was at a loss to explain the party's position.
"You see, soon after the Jats were placed in the OBC (Other Backward Class) category, the Gujjars started demanding that they be put in the ST category, because they feared the Jats will crowd them out of the benefits enjoyed by them as OBCs," said Rawat.
He conceded that the Gujjars, who constitute some eight to nine percent of the state's voters according to a rough estimate, "matter in 30-40 assembly constituencies".
"Last (assembly election) time, The Congress had promised to give them ST status. We also promised them the same. But it is for the central government to decide on these matters. The state government cannot do much," Rawat told IANS on phone while travelling to Ajmer.
Asked if the state government had made a recommendation to the central government, he said: "The Meenas (a tribal community) will oppose it. They have threatened an agitation if the Gujjars are put in the ST category. Moreover, how can they be put in ST category unless they prove what tribe they are from?"
BJP leaders thus admitted that Vasundhara Raje made the promise of the ST tag to the community before the last assembly elections while knowing well that it would be difficult to fulfil it.
That is what former chief minister and Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot said in Jaipur. "Before the elections, she had made this promise. She has now to fulfil it – that is the main issue," said Gehlot.
Sachin Pilot, a Gujjar leader and Congress MP from Dausa, one of the main flashpoints of the agitation, objected to Rawat's reference to opposition from the Meenas.
"This sounds outrageous. It is not for one or the other community to set out the criterion. It is for the government to decide."
Defending the Gujjar demand, Pilot said: "In Jammu and Kashmir and in Himachal Pradesh, they are already considered STs. They are nomadic shepherd people. If that criterion qualified them as STs in the two states, then why not in Rajasthan?"
The highway blockade agitation in the state Tuesday took a violent turn, leaving 14 dead.
"The issue has gone beyond the question of demands. The situation is very volatile and I am told there are rumblings in Delhi and Haryana too," said Pilot.
"At the moment the law and order situation takes priority. Dead bodies are lying on the roads. The army is out doing flag march. No one important enough from the state government has come to meet the agitating people. This has to be attended to first," said Pilot.