As the ongoing agitation to demand reservation for the Gujjar community in government jobs and educational institutes entered its fourth day, the protesters refused to budge from railway tracks in Rajasthan. A Gujjar leader warned that nobody will leave till their demands are met.
"We will leave only after getting 5 per cent reservation. I would request the government not to do anything which can provoke the people of Rajasthan. People are waiting for my instructions. Let's sort it out in a peaceful manner. The sooner the better," Gujjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla said today.
The Congress had promised the Gujjars 5 per cent reservation in its election manifesto and it is now bound to deliver, say protesters.
Scores of people from the Gujjar community in Rajasthan, led by the Gujjar Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti (GASS), have been protesting at railway tracks at Sawai Madhopur demanding implementation of the 5 per cent reservation that was promised to them by the state government. They have even set up tents around the tracks.
The protest has severely affected traffic on the highways and train movement along the Delhi-Mumbai line. The agitation turned violent on Sunday as the protesters clashed with the police personnel near Dholpur, officials said. They have blocked the Agra National Highway near Sikandara today.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Sunday said that his government was ready to hold talks with Gujjars, but condemned the violence and disruption of road and train traffic.
"The government is ready to open discussions but sitting on railway tracks as part of protest is unethical," Mr Gehlot said and urged them to submit a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"We did our best for them during my last tenure as the chief minister. We spoke to them and introduced 1 per cent reservation for the Gujjar community. We also tried to give them 5 per cent reservation. However, the High Court cancelled the same. Now they can start discussions with the Centre for 5 per cent reservation as it requires constitutional amendments," Mr Gehlot said.
A Rajasthan minister also urged the protesters not to resort to violence and protest peacefully. "I would also like to appeal to Bainsla ji to send his team for dialogue, and we will discuss as to how their demands can be met within limits of the constitution," Bhanwar Lal, the minister, said according to news agency ANI.
Like the chief minister, Mr Lal also tried to steer the protesters towards the centre. "We're not saying no, but our government is only 45-day-old. I would urge the Gujjar community to pressurise the Prime Minister to give five per cent reservation, the way they gave 10 per cent reservation to the general category," he said.
Ahead of the general elections, a bill to provide 10 per cent quota in jobs and education to candidates who belong to the economically weaker sections in the general category, was passed by both the Houses last month. The latest law on this triggered the Gujjar agitation.
According to the police, unidentified men fired around 10 shots in the air during the blockade on Agra-Morena highway on Sunday. When protesters threw stones, the police had to fire tear gas shells to disperse the crowd. Five policemen were injured and three police vehicles, including a bus, were also set on fire. No arrests have been made so far, a senior police officer said.
Section 144 has been imposed in Dholpur, Dausa, Bharatpur, Sawai Madhopur and Karauli after violence being reported on Sunday.
According to the railway authorities, as many as 18 trains were cancelled in Kota division of Central-West Railway on Sunday. The Railways has already announced cancellation of 37 trains between February 11 and 13.
The Rajasthan government led by Vasundhara Raje had assured the Gujjar community of 5 per cent reservation in a special category in 2017 after a bout of agitation. It had planned to expand the reservation for Other Backward Classes from 21 per cent to 26 per cent and to give 5 per cent reservation to Gujjars and other castes. After the expansion, however, the total reservation in the state would have crossed the 50 per cent ceiling set by the Supreme Court.
The bill to this effect, which was introduced in the monsoon session of the state assembly in 2017, was put on hold by the Rajasthan High Court after an appeal against it.