CHANDIGARH: The Pro-reservation agitation of the Jats is now almost over. Blame and cover-up has already started, but unless we learn lessons and implement them in future, this will continue to be repeated. While the agitation lasted over nearly 10 days, it kept worsening on a daily, and at times on an hourly basis. The law and order machinery of Haryana, consisting of the political leadership, the bureaucrats and the police was paralysed, while the common people suffered, some with scars that will take a long time to heal.

This paralysis of the state government had two components. The first was the inability to visualize how the agitation would pan out after it started, so that suitable measures could be set in motion in consonance with the developing situation. The second was crass ignorance about the psychology of the agitators and how it had all the hallmarks of escalating to such high levels, both in intensity and geographical spread.

This pro-reservation agitation was not the first such agitation, as many had taken place, both closer to Haryana and some far removed. Not only that, within Haryana too, a pro-reservation agitation had taken place only a few years back during the government of the previous chief minister - Shri Hooda of the Congress Party, which was also fairly ugly. The third and most enduring facet is that rival political parties have instigated, if not initiated such agitations. Consequently, it is strange that neither any contingency planning was carried out, nor the intelligence components of the state police or the institutions at the centre had given any warnings, or is it that they too are as inefficient as the rest?

The result of this muddling of governance was that the law and order situation quickly escalated, while all institutions of the state twiddled their thumb, either deliberately or because they could not prepare a coherent plan to counter the burgeoning problem. It was in this kind of milieu that starting with an agitation of slogan-shouting youth, it soon became a violent pro-reservation agitation. Even at this stage, little or no action to quell it by instruments available in terms of district and divisional level civil officials and the fairly vast network of police as well as armed police in all areas encompassing the agitation was taken.

The stage was now set for the entry of the lumpen elements that abound in our country, as in normal circumstances the police allows them to thrive for a consideration, in the time honoured culture of ‘you scratch my back and I scratch your back’. With their entry into the agitation, not only was there a surge in the numbers of agitators, but the situation changed overnight from an agitation against the government to one having communal overtones. Besides physical clashes, it resulted in destruction of both public and private property, loot, pillage and rapine, although the last has been denied.

This would have carried on if the army, once it was called, had not taken strong measures. By strong, I mean firm, for at no stage did any of the 35 odd columns resort to firing or any other counter-violence. They could have easily done so, as they had the necessary equipment and the expertise, but their training, ethos and adhering to laid down norms worked. Two cardinal principles when the army gets deployed in aid to civil authority for maintenance of law and order are the doctrine of ‘good faith’ and ‘use of minimum force’. This is exactly what the officers commanding the various columns did and yet brought the highly charged up situation under control in the minimum of time.

The army deserves kudos for their actions, but then when has the army failed our countrymen? On the other hand, it is the government that is unable or unwilling to meet the aspirations of the Indian Military, but that is an oft-repeated story, well summed up by a more intelligent person than me, in the following home truths:

· Cheapest commodity in India- soldier's life; only item that doesn't freeze in sub zero temperatures or doesn't get fried in 50 degrees centigrade heat but continues to work perfectly - the Indian soldier.

· Fastest, fiercest, best & also lowest paid - IAF fighter pilot.

· Protectors of coast/islands at lowest cost - Indian Navy.

· Always ready to protect, including in floods, earthquakes, riots, and agitations - Indian Military.

· Immediately forgotten after assistance and poorly paid by successive Pay Commissions - Indian Military.

In these early post-traumatic days, when the citizenry in general and those whose life, property and way of life were seriously disrupted, there is need to have a debate on two issues. The first is the legitimacy of the proud Jats agitating to become backward and secondly the entire question of perpetuating this principle of Reservations in an open-ended manner.

Since Haryana state was carved out after the Punjabi Suba Agitation in the 1950’s, the state has had nine ethnic Jat chief ministers out of eleven. The bulk of government jobs in all categories from civil officials, the subordinate bureaucracy and the state police are manned by Jats. The beneficiaries of government dispensation, in terms of allocation of petrol pumps, gas agencies, tractors and other largesse is with the Jats.

The Jats make great soldiers and the Indian Military is proud of them. In fact, during the current deployment of the army, veteran Jat officers and the rank and file gave unstinted support and assistance to the army columns. They have also brought great glory to the country in the sports arena, not only nationally but also internationally.

Finally, in the economic field, Haryana is a leader, especially in the agriculture field which is dominated by the Jats. So, why this agitation? I fear it was instigated at the behest of politicians of more than one political party.

Let me now move to some substantive issues. The initial Reservation, as decreed by our Constitution was for the really deserving Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) and was planned to be for a limited period of 10 years or so. Our expert forefathers who wrote the Constitution had not erred when they stipulated reservation for these categories, who had been oppressed for centuries and who needed the special support of the government and the society, to bring them up, do away with the huge biases that were responsible for their sad plight and make them capable of joining the mainstream of an independent nation, where the Constitution begins with those glorious words, sadly now forgotten, “We the people….”.

The concept of this Reservation for the deprived was supported by practically the entire population, but when it became an open-ended proposition on account of the vote-hungry political class, the infamous Mandal-Kamandal syndrome and the continuing deprivation of the rest of the populace, voices began to be raised. However, our ‘clever’ politicians could only think of perpetuating this unholy and ridiculous formulation, instead of changing course by making reservation only for the poor or in political jargon, the ‘economically deprived’. There was much talk of the so-called ‘creamy layer’, but it was only talk! The politicians of all parties, of all hues and colours, want this dispensation to continue, so that their ‘vote banks’ remain safe! In the bargain, if the least competent, the least educated and the least capable are not only accommodated, absorbed in all categories of government jobs and promoted brushing aside merit, so be it. If the nation then goes to the dogs and a huge chunk of population is not only unhappy, disappointed to the core and disillusioned, so be it.

The Jat agitation was one more in the long list of such agitations of the past. By making promises that cannot be implemented, the government may suppress/ diffuse/ buy peace temporarily, but the original problem will continue to fester and erupt regularly. It is already a no-solution issue; because the highest court of the land has imposed a moratorium on how many can be brought under the reservation list. I do not visualize any change in the stance of the Supreme Court in the near future.

If in its wisdom, the Supreme Court does relent, it would unfortunately be paving the way for a major revolution and that my friends is a major no-no, as it will completely tear the fabric of tolerance and unity in the midst of diversity that is already stretched to its limit.

(The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff)