Gujjar leader agrees to join talks Monday

June 15th, 2008 - 10:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Jaipur, June 15 (IANS) The Gujjars agitating for the Scheduled Tribe status and the Rajasthan government have come closer to an amicable solution as community leader Colonel (retd.) K.S. Bainsla finally agreed to join their talks here Monday. “We have apprised Col. Bainsla of the progress made in the three rounds so far and he has agreed to join the fourth round of talks in Jaipur Monday,” Masood Chaudhary, vice-chancellor of a university in Jammu and Kashmir who has headed the Gujjar delegation during the three rounds of talks so far, told reporters Sunday.

“We are hopeful of reaching an amicable solution after the fourth round,” Chaudhary said.

Ramdas Aggarwal, a senior functionary of the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who has headed the government delegation, said: “Col. Bainsla has agreed to come here for talks. We are hopeful of working out an amicable solution tomorrow.”

Bainsla and his hundreds of supporters have been holding a rail and road blockade at Bayana in Bharatpur district, 160 km from here.

Bainsla as well as Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje have not participated in the talks that started Monday.

His presence at the talks in Jaipur Monday, however, depends on weather as it was raining heavily in the region.

Also, both sides remained tight-lipped at the compromise formula being worked out.

The two sides held the third round of talks in Jaipur Saturday. “The third round of talks was held in a much better environment than the second round,” Aggarwal said, adding: “We have again invited Colonel (retd.) Bainsla to be part of the talks.”

Bainsla’s organisation has been spearheading the community’s agitation for Scheduled Tribe status and, thereby, for better education and employment opportunities.

Chaudhary said the community wanted tribal status and compensation for those killed in police firing during their agitation that started 24 days ago.

During the talks so far, the Gujjar leaders have focused on three conditions - release of the Gujjars held during the agitation, restoration of power supply to some Gujjar-dominated areas, and an end to police raids in the Gujjar areas.

After the talks were launched in Bayana Monday, the second round was stalled till Thursday, when the government released on bail 24 Gujjar women arrested during the agitation.

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 Jaipur-Delhi sector for six days. They were charged with causing damage to rail property and indulging in violence.

The Gujjars are classified as other backward classes (OBCs) in Rajasthan but they want Scheduled Tribe status that would give them a bigger share of the jobs and education quota pie. They have been agitating since May 23. The violent protests have claimed 39 lives.

Last year, Gujjars 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.

Meanwhile, Meenas, the dominant community with the Scheduled Tribe status, remained unhappy at the Gujjar campaign, fearing dilution of the job and education reservation for them.

K.L. Meena, former cabinet minister in the state government and a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator, Saturday resigned from the assembly to protest concessions being offered to Gujjars. A couple of other Meena legislators Sunday met Speaker Sumitra Singh, according to party sources.

The Meena community has opposed any move to include Gujjars in the tribal list and has also threatened a mass agitation if the government made any changes in the existing Scheduled Tribes list.

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