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India: Deal Promises to End Riots, Restore Water in Delhi

  • Residents fill their empty containers with water from a municipal tanker in New Delhi, India.

    Residents fill their empty containers with water from a municipal tanker in New Delhi, India. | Photo: Reuters

Published 22 February 2016
Opinion

The farmer Jat community is upset that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for whom they overwhelmingly voted, is not providing the jobs he promised.

Members of the Jat community reached a deal late on Monday to end protests that paralysed the north Indian state of Haryana and cut water supplies to Delhi's 20 million residents, a protest leader and a police source said.

"The government has promised to meet our demands and we have promised our full cooperation," Ramesh Dalal, convener of the Jat Arakshan Andolan (Jat Reservation Movement), told Reuters.

The accord with state and union government leaders means protesters are expected to clear road blockades and end their agitation, which has left at least 16 people dead and more than 150 injured.

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Dalal said he had appealed to the entire Jat community, which makes up around a quarter of the population of Haryana, to return home after staging state-wide protests to demand more government jobs and opportunities to enroll in college.

In Bahadurgarh, to the west of Delhi, Jat protesters were still out in force, expressing their anger against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and demanding written assurances of more jobs for their community.

The Jats predominantly voted for Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2014 general election, when he won the biggest parliamentary majority that India has seen in three decades. Months later the the party won an outright majority in Haryana for the first time.

Although many of the state's chief ministers have been Jats, the current minister is not. Commentators have faulted him and other BJP leaders for failing to read the social mood and devoting too much attention to issues, like protecting cows, that are a core part of the party's pro-Hindu agenda.

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As a group, Jats are experiencing downward mobility and missing out on urban job opportunities. Their leaders complain that affirmative action policies for typically underrepresented minorites have deprived them of government jobs and educational opportunities.

The protests have caused major disruptions, with 850 trains cancelled, 500 factories closed and business losses estimated at US$2.9 billion.

India's army earlier retook control of a canal that supplies three-fifths of the capital's water. Water is expected to reach the metropolis by early Tuesday.

Prime Minister Modi has ignored the protests, instead launching a broadside on Sunday against unnamed conspirators he accused of trying to undermine his government.

Many Jats, who number more than 80 million across north India, are farmers who have suffered amid drought and decreasing plot sizes, with families tradtionally dividing farms among their children.
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