Raje, Gujjars talk tough as toll mounts to 35 (Roundup)

May 25th, 2008 - 11:39 pm ICT by admin  

Jaipur, May 25 (IANS) Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Sunday flew to the flashpoint of the violence surrounding the Gujjar agitation for Scheduled Tribe status, but the two parties failed to initiate talks, while the toll mounted to 35. Authorities barred Congress MP Sachin Pilot from meeting the protestors. Raje rushed to Bayana in Bharatpur district, over 170 km east of Jaipur, to take stock of the situation.

She was expected to hold talks there with Col. (retd) K.L. Bainsla, leader of the Gujjar stir, to find an amicable solution but she returned to the state capital without holding any parley. Sources close to Bainsla said he had insisted that the government first apologise for the police firing Friday and Saturday.

State government officials, on the other hand, said the chief minister had made no attempt to talk to Bainsla during her trip.

The Gujjar leader had spurned an offer of talks in the morning saying he could not leave the place where he was laying siege on a railway track with thousands of his supporters.

“I cannot go to Jaipur for talks. All we want is a recommendation letter by the state government to be sent to the central government for classifying us as tribals,” Bainsla said.

Later in the evening, Raje held a meeting with Home Secretary V.S. Singh and Director General of Police A.S. Gill.

Earlier in the day, she had sent a warning to the Gujjar leadership through the media. “Do not try to test my patience,” she said. “We would not tolerate people taking law into their hands.

“Many anti-social elements and dacoits have joined this agitation. We would, under no circumstance, allow any one to resort to violence. I again request the Gujjars not to be swayed by those who are trying to do politics over dead bodies,” she said.

Raje said stern action would be taken against those indulging in violence.

Rohit Mahajan, newly appointed superintendent of police of Bharatpur district, went to the spot where the Gujjars protestors had gathered. “I went there unarmed and talked to the community members there. The state government has already invited them for talks. I want this channel to open,” he said.

The situation continued to be tense in parts of the desert state as the Gujjars continued their agitation demanding tribal status for better educational and job opportunities.

At least 35 people, including two policemen, have been killed in two days of the violent agitation.

Sixteen people, including one policeman, were killed Friday when the community launched a rail blockade from Bayana.

Home Minister G.C. Kataria said Sunday that at least 19 people were killed and over 20 injured in violent clashes between police and Gujjars in Sikandara in Dausa district, over 90 km from here, Saturday evening.

“We have information of 19 people, including a policeman, killed in Sikandara yesterday,” Kataria told IANS.

He said police opened fire after a mob of Gujjars shot a policeman in the leg and tried to damage government property.

Dausa MP Sachin Pilot of the Congress was barred from the area Sunday due to the prevailing law and order situation. He demanded Raje’s resignation, telling IANS: “The Vasundhara Raje government has lost its moral right and constitutional authority to continue in power. It must quit office now. You cannot terrorise a community,”

The army and paramilitary forces have been called in to control violence in some places as agitators damaged public transport buses, vandalised government property, and blocked roads and rail tracks, bringing inter-city movement of people to a halt.

A public transport bus was torched near Kota and incidents of stone pelting were reported from other areas as a large number of women also joined the agitation.

Kataria said a mob continued to block the Jaipur-Agra national highway in Sikandara and another group had laid siege to a railway track near Dhumaria hampering the movement of rail traffic on the important Delhi-Mumbai line.

Gujjars, who belong to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), held protests all over Rajasthan from May 29 to June 4 last year, demanding Scheduled Tribes status. At least 26 people were killed in the violence then.

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