Curfew clamped in Gujarat town as Patel stir turns violent

Ahmedabad, April 17 (IANS) A ‘jail bharo’ programme by agitating Patidar (Patel) leaders turned violent on Sunday, forcing the authorities to clamp curfew and deploy the Border Security Force (BSF) in Gujarat’s northern town of Mehsana.

Unruly mobs attacked the camp offices of Minister of State for Home Rajni Patel and Health Minister Nitin Patel, who is also the head of the committee of seven ministers constituted by Chief Minister Anandiben Patel to hold talks with the two Patidar outfits — Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) and Sardar Patel Group (SPG).

The two ministers were also targeted during the violence on the night of August 25 last year following police action at a massive rally in Ahmedabad.

The committee has submitted its report to the chief minister and a decision is expected soon.

Porbander BJP Lok Sabha member Vitthal Radadia, who is also a Patel, has been mediating between jailed Patidar leader Hardik Patel and the government and had recently said a rapprochment was around the corner.

Facing sedition charges, Hardik Patel has been in jail for the last eight months.

The SPG and the PAAS have agitating for reservation for Patels in government jobs and educational institutions under the Other Backward Classes category.

Sunday’s ‘jail bharo’ programme was in support of the demand for the release of jailed Patel leaders and withdrawal of cases against them.

The SPG had earlier announced its second round of agitation if its demands were not met by April 17.

Police and paramilitary forces were deployed in all north Gujarat towns, besides Ahmedabad and Surat, which are known strongholds of the pro-quota Patels, following incidents of arson and stone-pelting in Mehsana as well as Surat.

More than 1,000 agitators from the Patel community in Mehsana and over 500 in Surat were taken into preventive custody as large crowds gathered near the district jails in both places in defiance of prohibitory orders.

Surat Police Commissioner Ashish Bhatia told TV channels that most of those detained were from the Patel-dominated Varachha area.

Asserting that trouble-makers would not be spared, Bhatia said: “This city belongs to all and those creating mischief will be dealt with strictly.”

Chief Minister Anandiben Patel said after a government programme in Gujarat’s southern town of Valsad: “Our government is for the people and not for agitators.”

She issued a statement asking people to maintain peace and harmony and not get waylaid by rumours.

Speaking to Gujarati TV channels, state BJP president Vijay Rupani asked the people as well as police to exercise retraint.

Authorities suspended internet services and mobile phone applications till Monday morning in Mehsana and other north Gujarat towns after the violence to prevent the spread of incendiary information.

Similar action is likely to be taken in Ahmedabad and certain cities of Saurashtra region, sources said.

The agitators set on fire an FCI godown and a state government building in Mehsana.

The Patel mobs also torched a sub divisional magistrate’s vehicle and a state transport bus.

Two buses of the Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Service (AMTS) were attacked with stones in Patidar-domiated Ghatlodia area of Ahmedabad.

A group of Patels blocked the Bhavnagar-Talaja highway in Saurashtra region.

About 200 state transport buses were diverted from sensitive routes as a precaution and drivers were instructed to take the buses to the nearest police stations.

In Ahmedabad city also, some buses run by AMTS were diverted from Patel-dominated pockets while civic authorities were holding a meeting to decide on discontinuing several routes in the city.

Police hurled over two dozen tear gas shells and used water cannons as well as rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.

SPG convener Lalji Patel sustained head injuries as his supporters pelted stones at policemen.

Gujarati TV channels quoted police as saying that Patel was hurt in the stone-throwing and not baton-charge.

Lalji Patel along with his supporters was also taken into preventive custody.

The SPG has given a call for a shutdown in Gujarat on Monday in protest against the police action.

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