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Since 1st March, 1999
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The Vasundhara Raje Scindia government in Rajasthan does not even have enough of a rope to hang itself. The state is poised on the edge of another spell of violence of the kind it saw only months ago, and the Bharatiya Janata Party government has no one but itself to blame for its difficulties. It had first expected the Gujjars to suffer mass dementia and forget the promise made during the 2003 assembly elections of awarding the community a scheduled tribe status. When public fury caught it by surprise in May-June over the unfulfilled promise, the government announced a committee to look into the veracity of the demand. And now that the Jasraj Chopra committee has rejected the demand, the state government has once again failed to close the issue by sending the report to the Centre without its recommendations. If Gujjars now threaten to paralyse the state and continue to expect the government to cough up the promised dues, it is because the government has shown no sign of giving up its strategy to use the policy of reservation to maximum political advantage.

The shameless misuse of the State’s pledge for affirmative action in the electoral game is one fact that the findings of the Chopra committee indirectly point to. The report asks for a reconsideration of the obsolete criteria that determine ST status. This is important since political parties have incessantly pushed for ‘backwardness’ to be measured along religious and caste lines. The result has not always been pleasant, as the BJP government is finding out. Given the growing campaigns to join the race for the exalted reserved category status, some of which are turning increasingly more violent (witness the agitation of the tea tribes in Assam), the need for such re-evaluation has become urgent. The Supreme Court has repeatedly pointed it out, and now the Chopra committee has done it too. The committee also wants the Rajasthan government to envision special packages, with composite plans and incentives, to reach out to “underdeveloped and inaccessible” regions. The emphasis clearly is to address socio-economic and educational backwardness, minus the political strings. The Rajasthan government would be well-advised to take the suggestions seriously, as would those in other states where quota politics is in full swing.

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