Gujjars and Rajasthan government begin talks

June 13th, 2008 - 2:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Jaipur, June 13 (IANS) The Rajasthan government and members of the Gujjar community Friday began their second round of talks, raising hopes that the 22-day violent standoff over the demand for affirmative action may finally end. A 25-member team of the Gujjar Sangarsh Aarakshan Samiti, that has been spearheading the community’s agitation for Scheduled Tribe status and therefore better education and employment opportunities, is holding discussions with a nine-member government delegation headed by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Ramdas Agarwal.

The government team includes the state’s two Gujjar ministers Nathu Singh Gujjar and Kalu Lal Gujjar as well as other ministers and senior officials.

However, Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is not part of the talks and neither is Gujjar leader K.S. Bainsla.

“We are going with an open mind and are hoping for the best,” said Ramveer Singh Vidhuri, a Gujjar leader, adding that a final decision would only be taken by Bainsla.

The government had paved the way for the talks on Thursday by releasing 24 Gujjar women arrested during the agitation, a precondition the community had set for the talks.

The women were arrested June 6 for squatting on the railway track near Bandikui in Dausa district as part of the agitation, which affected rail traffic on the important Jaipur-Delhi sector for about six days. They were charged with causing damage to rail property and indulging in violence.

On Monday, the two sides had held discussions in Bayana in Bharatpur district, about 160 km from here. The Gujjar leaders had then focussed on three conditions - release of the Gujjars held during the agitation, restoration of power supply to some Gujjar-dominated areas, and a stop to police raids in their areas.

The Gujjars, who are classified as other backward classes (OBCs) in Rajasthan and want ST status that would give them a bigger share of the quota pie, have been agitating since May 23. The violent protests have claimed 39 lives.

Last year, Gujjars had held protests all over Rajasthan from May 29 to June 4 to press the same demand. At least 26 people were killed in the violence then.

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