The Jat agitation for a quota in government jobs and education in Haryana could take an ugly turn again, with gun-toting youth blocking roads and the protest leader warning of an “earthquake”.
The stir left 30 people dead a year ago as violence swept the state, with protesters targeting properties owned by non-Jats and disrupting rail and road traffic.
Like the last time, the epicentre of the protest is the Rohtak district of the state.
On Sunday, a large number of people gathered at the dharna site in Rohtak’s Jassia village, a day after another round of talks with the government failed.
The protesters poured on to the national highway-71 A, which connects Rohtak to Panipat district, blocking vehicles for several hours – the first traffic disruption during this round of the stir.
Commuters faced a harrowing time as many were stuck in the jam for hours while others were forced to take a detour after police diverted traffic.
But, the worrying part were the young men flaunting guns, bringing back memories of lawlessness that prevailed for days in these parts of the state.
“If our demands are not met even by then (Feb 19)…to na rail band karenge…na traffic rokenge…par bhookamp zaroor aaega (we will neither disrupt rail nor road, but something earthshaking will happen),” All lndia Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti chief Yashpal Malik said in his address to the protesters.
Troublemakers, said sources, were taking over the protest. Though police and paramilitary forces were present in a large number at the protest site, it did little to deter the weapon-wielding men. Though section 144 of the CrPC, which prohibits assembly of more than four people, is clamped along the national highway, protesters held a huge demonstration in the presence of police.
“As per reports, they are pellet guns. We are taking legal action,” Rohtak superintendent of police Pankaj Nain said.
Police came in for severe criticism the last time for failing to contain the situation and act against protesters.
Malik said they agreed for another round of talks but may change decision if the government failed to respond positively.
The Balidan Divas (martyrdom day) planned on February 19 to honour those killed during last year’s quota stir would be observed in 175 districts across India, and not just Haryana, he said.
The land-holding community has a significant presence in western Uttar Pradesh and in parts of Rajasthan as well.
A traditionally dominant community that accounts for a quarter of the Haryana’s population, the Jats say they have been overlooked by successive governments.
Along with reservation, they are demanding scrapping of cases registered last year and release of protesters arrested on charges of rioting and arson.