Worried at the prospect of the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan turning into a full-fledged caste war, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stepped in on Saturday with a message for calm and peace in the state.
Singh’s appeal came shortly after a meeting with senior BJP leaders, LK Advani and Jaswant Singh; the Union home ministry followed it up with another advisory to Rajasthan and neighbouring states with a significant Gujjar population.
This time, the Centre asked Rajasthan to initiate talks with eminent persons from the two warring communities, Gujjar and Meena, at the state as well district level and "widely publicise" appeals for peace from prominent community leaders.
"The events of the past few days in parts of Rajasthan have caused a great deal of pain and distress to large numbers of people. Sadly, many lives have been lost, plunging their families into grief," the prime minister said in his first public statement since Tuesday when Gujjars came out on the streets to demand the scheduled tribe tag.
"My heart grieves for all those who have lost their family members and those who have suffered injuries. I appeal to all the people of Rajasthan and also those in neighbouring states to maintain peace and calm. I appeal to all sections of society to desist from actions which may lead to further violence and distress and which will disrupt the lives of ordinary citizens," he said.
The Centre has already put 29 companies of central para-military, 5 companies drawn from neighbouring states and army personnel at the disposal of the state government to control the violence and is ready to send more troops.
But it has been careful to politically keep its distance from the agitation and not burn its fingers in Rajasthan’s caste cauldron.
Minister of State in the Home Ministry Sriprakash Jaiswal had hinted at this approach on Friday when he made it clear that the state government had not been able to do what it was "supposed to do" to resolve the political problem. The Congress had gone right ahead to blame the Vasundhara Raje government and asked her to bear the cross for the turn of events.
It is this approach that Advani asked the prime minister to discard on Saturday morning at their meeting with the prime minister also attended by Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister Shivraj Patil.
The BJP is learnt to have pointed that if the leadership across the political spectrum did not speak in the same voice and the situation got out of hands, Rajasthan was not the only state to suffer.
Gujjar communities outside Rajasthan were increasingly getting associated with the protests, a fear that has been reflected in the number of states receiving advisories from the Union Home Ministry. The Centre had added Madhya Pradesh to the earlier list of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana on Saturday, asking them to nix any possibility of the spill over effect.