Supreme Court has denounced mobocracy in the context of India’s lynching epidemic. Another aspect of mobocracy is evident in the violent turn to the Maratha reservation agitation, which started out as a peaceful movement. Resorting to arson and vandalism to make a point only undermines the protesters’ cause. The violent Jat quota agitation and how it rapidly petered out is worth recalling. It is incumbent on the Maharashtra government to restore law and order and on the leaders of the Maratha stir to ensure that it stays within the bounds of peaceful protest.
Along with the violence, the government must also grapple with a fundamental problem: why are dominant landowning communities like Patidars, Marathas and Jats demanding reservation? The questions lead to government’s door and it can no longer kick the can down the road by promising more reservations. If Marathas are granted OBC status, then castes currently benefiting from reservation are certain to agitate.
Maratha dominance in land ownership has not cushioned the blow from falling farm incomes and a paradoxical situation of social insecurity as backward groups carve out their niche in education and government jobs. China as well as east Asian countries rode to prosperity on the back of a massive shift of workforce from agriculture to industry. India has struggled unsuccessfully to replicate this pattern even as avenues for upward mobility like IT jobs are drying up. Groups like Marathas find themselves squeezed from both ends. Agriculture is in crisis and lack of jobs in the formal economy make government service an attractive option for educated youth. But there are only so many of these jobs to go around, leading to heartburn.
If social justice is the cornerstone of the reservation policy, India is at a juncture where social justice can only be ensured by creating jobs on a large scale. As for reservations, they should be confined to SC/ST groups or economically underprivileged individuals. With a median age of 27 and over 60% of population in working age, communities turning violent for a share of the measly reservation pie indicate a larger problem of joblessness we are unwilling to confront or admit. Political discourse in advanced democracies often centres on how to create more jobs. India too must find solutions in this domain. Here’s a clue: step up the gas on economic reforms.