Gujjars dismiss Raje letter to PM as gimmick, intensify stir (Lead)

May 27th, 2008 - 10:45 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Sahil Makkar
Bayana (Rajasthan), May 27 (IANS) Terming as a “gimmick” Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s attempt to buy peace with them by writing to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, thousands of more Gujjars Tuesday joined the rail and road blockade agitation for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. Gujjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla has sought central government intervention in helping his community get the Scheduled Tribe status that will give them access to government benefits in education and jobs.

“We will not give up our agitation without getting the state’s letter of recommendation for inclusion of Gujjars in the ST category. The letter that she (Vasundhara Raje) has sent to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh only carries the old recommendations,” Bainsla said.

“It is another gimmick to cheat Gujjars. We want the state government to ensure SC/ST status for Gujjars under Article 342 (of the constitution). We will not rest until we get the letter. We are intensifying our movement,” said the retired army colonel, who leads the Gujjar Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti (pro-reservation movement).

In a bid to control the worsening situation in the state, Raje wrote to the prime minister asking for a meeting of chief ministers of concerned states on the issue of Gujjar reservation and calling for four to six percent quota for the community.

But it had little impact with hundreds of Gujjars blocking all vehicular movement on arterial highways like Jaipur-Agra, Jaipur-Alwar, Jaipur-Kota, Jaipur-Dausa.

Agitators burned tyres and effigies of Raje and state Home Minister G.C. Kataria in Banswara district. The police had to fire teargas shells and resort to baton charge in Kotputali area to remove road blocks on the Delhi-Jaipur highway.

The agitators also torched buses and some vehicles in parts of the state.

There seem to be no signs of an end to the stalemate between the state government and Gujjars. While the government wants a dialogue at a neutral place, the Gujjar leader said talks would only be held at Pilpura village where he is camping along with thousands of his followers.

The government seems is no mood to go ahead with Bainsla’s proposals.

Gujjar leader Ranbir Chandla has threatened to cut milk supplies to New Delhi in the next couple of days.

“We will intensify our stir as per the directions of our leaders. We have called a shutdown in 10 districts,” he added.

Bainsla and other Gujjar leaders, who have been squatting on railway tracks for the past five days as part of their rail blockade, were seen discussing the future strategy for their agitation that has already claimed 37 lives, mostly in police firing.

The Gujjars have spread out on either side of the railway track near the Dumaria railway station, attired in white kurta-pyjamas or kurta-dhotis. Their aggression is mounting.

Holding sickles and sticks, these members of the traditional shepherd community shouted slogans like “Gujjar Ekta Jindabad” (Long live Gujjar unity) and “Arkashan Lekar Rehnege” (We will secure reservation), and “Colonel Tum Aage Bado, Hum Tumhare Sath hai” (we are with you, Col Bainsla).

Some who hail from the three districts of Karoli, Bharatpur and Dausa said they have not moved from the site the past five days, since the agitation began.

Bainsla and his second-in-command Harprasad said they had not even take a bath since the beginning of the stir Friday.

“This is a final battle. I have come from Delhi to join my community,” said R.C. Chaprana, a Gujjar.

Gumar Singh, who has come from Himachal Pradesh, added: “We will fight with guns if needed. At the end of the day, this is not my fight, it’s the community’s fight.”

A large number of women have also joined the movement.

Flaunting a sickle, one Gujjar woman, Kausla, 55, said: “I will not hesitate to kill anyone who tries to come in our way.”

“I will not get up from here till the time we get a letter from Vasundhara Raje. It is a fight for our children’s livelihood. With reservation, we will have better opportunities, like the Meenas,” added 55-year-old Rupanti, who has travelled over 100 km to join the protest.

While the Gujjars have been classified as other backward classes (OBCs), they want ST status like the Meenas and a share of the quota pie. Ironically, OBCs get 27 percent reservation and STs 7.5 percent, but the perception is that the community will get a larger share of the quota pie with ST status.

The community had held similar protests all over Rajasthan from May 29 to June 4 last year. Normal life was paralysed and at least 26 people were killed in the violence that seemed headed towards a caste war between Meenas and Gujjars last year.

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