The 1857 uprising, though for a short time, unnerved the British. After the event, to ensure that this never occurred again, Britons began commencing a series of real politick measures. The Bengal army which had shown alarming camaraderie during the mutiny was disbanded. Calumny against the Brahmins, for having presented the ideological leaven for the revolt along with constituting an all India framework for the movement, was doubled. The unity of Hindus and Muslims, which was unmistakably extraordinary during the revolt, was a major budding threat for the empire in India and provision were made to dissuade it.
‘Divide et Impera was the old Roman motto,’ wrote Lord Elphinstone, then Governor of Bombay ‘and it should be ours.’ Sir John Strachey was of no dissimilar view. ‘The existence, side by side, of hostile creeds among the Indian people, is one of the strong points in our political position in India.’ he stated.
Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal along religious lines. ‘Even after this sensible Hindu and Muslim leaders in East Bengal continued to oppose the partition’ observes S. Abid Husain in his book The Destiny of Indian Muslims. The fanatic mullah however persuaded the Muslim masses that the governance of the province had now been passed into their hands and aroused in them a blind fury, which naturally took the form of a revolt against the landlords and traders who were predominantly Hindus, and communal riots raged throughout the new province.
‘The partition of Bengal had to be revoked after a few years on account of the countrywide agitation against it,’ Abid Husain continues ‘yet, it sowed the seed of division in the hearts of the people that was one day to divide the whole country…’ Curzon was forced to resign but his successor Minto went ahead with the policy of ‘Divide et Impera’, in the most predictable manner, by introducing ‘Muslim Representation’. He took elaborate steps to make it appear that communal representation was being introduced ‘to meet the demands of the Muslims’. And he did it with amazing brilliance. Apart from that other steps took forward, by him, was to drag Sikhs and others away from Hindus and also whittle down the number of ‘Hindus’ by dividing them within, using caste distinction. This policy continued uninterruptedly until the end of the Imperial regime.
In 1947 British left India, but their strategies were carried by the Indian politicians. Reservations, that which was put in the constitution with a very noble idea of uplifting the depressed, began to be used as an effective tool to gather votes from specific castes. The current violent clashes between the Gujjars and Meenas have their roots in the same policy of Divide et Impera.
According to some historians Gujjars have their roots to the Huns dynasty from Central Asia; while some others link them to the Georgians and Chechens, but all agree that their origin is from Central Asia. Once they landed here with the Huns they established small kingdoms in the areas around modern Rajasthan and Gujarat. Incidentally Gujjars are both Hindus and Muslims. The Muslim Gujjars had shown dissent against the British in Ludhiana in Punjab. In the process of rebelling against the British, they were known to have committed several loots of British garrisons, which made the Imperial authorities to classify them under the ‘Criminal Tribes’ (CT).
Meanwhile, the Meenas community that is now arraigned against the Gujjars getting the ST status also have an interesting history. Unlike the Gujjars, who are spread out in north-western India, Meenas are a tribe whom you would find only in Rajasthan. Today a land-owning class, historians say they were ruling class in the ancient Matsya (modern Rajasthan) and were even seen as Kshatriyas, like the Gujjars in the earlier times. However their origin is still not clear as historians differ on whether they had Central Asian origin like the Gujjars, or are were an indigenous community.
The similarity between the Gujjars and the Meenas appear over the way in which the British treated them. Like Gujjars, British found this community also as a peril, a British chronicler even labelled them as ‘revengeful and blood thirsty people’. And like they did with the Gujjars, this community was also denominated as a CT. It may be seen that both had belonged to a much higher caste order and were later relegated into CT during the Imperial rule.
In the post-independent India, the Meenas, who became economically better off being landowner somehow managed to get them classified, during the 60s, as a ST, while the economically inferior Gujjars got only the OBC status. The Gujjars were quiet reconciled to this status, after their demand in the 70s ‘to be included in the ST category’ was rejected.
But the problem began, all over again, in the 90s when the NDA government led by BJP with an eye on the Jat votes in Rajasthan, before 1998 elections to the Assembly, promised them an OBC status. When this promise was duly fulfilled in ’99 the Gujjars suddenly found themselves at a detrimental position as more economically and socially, as well as educationally powerful Jat began cornering ‘their’ OBC share.
The BJP was in the scene again during the 2003 Assembly Polls. Its present Chief Minister, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, pledged the Gujjars that if she came to power she would urge their inclusion in the ST list to the Centre. It is this unfulfilled demand, according to Gujjars, which has forced them to violence. These unrests and caste clashes are now spreading to Delhi, UP and Haryana, rather too fast.
Politicians, if they don’t do anything else, always play games. A similar game was played in Karnataka in the late 1980s when former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda had ‘championed’ the cause of the Nayakas to be included in the list of STs. Despite opposition from many quarters, Gowda had used his clout with the short-lived Chandra Shekhar Government at the centre in 1990 and included the Nayakas in the ST list. And the result: Population of the STs multiplied and when the fresh delimitation of Assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies were completed the seats reserved for ST in Karnataka Assembly zoomed up to 15 from 2 per cent and for the Lok Sabha from none to two.
The situation is no different in Rajasthan today. The seats reserved for the STs are expected to go up, and one of the major casualties will be the Dausa Lok Sabha (LS) seat, considered as the only Gujjars stronghold. A seat represented by late Rajesh Pilot for long time, and now held by his son Sachin, it is likely to be reserved for STs. Similarly a few Assembly seats held by the Gujjars are also likely to face extinction, as far as the Gujjars are concerned. It is this lurking fear which has also ignited the kind of frenzy among the Gujjars. The resistance of Meenas for inclusion of Gujjars in the ST category is directly related to their apprehension that their almost unchallenged dominance of this category will be thing of the past, if the Gujjars, like the Nayakas in Karnataka, enter the list.
One suggestion which is being spoken of to overcome this lethal deadlock is to categorize the OBCs like in Karnataka and Kerala and create a quota within the quota. This may solve the problem when it comes to sharing seats in education and job, but still it is unlikely to alleviate the trepidation of the Gujjars about the political trouncing they would suffer, following the delimitation process.
Interestingly the situation has gone so convoluted that neither the BJP nor the Congress is able to constrain the monster they themselves had created. They are absolutely clueless in handling the situation.
Author is the Editor-In-Chief of Aseemaa: Journal for National Resurgence