Patel quota stir: Curfew in Mehsana, protesters call for shutdown

  • Hiral Dave, Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad
  • Updated: Apr 18, 2016 09:33 IST
Members of the Patidar community protest during their ‘Jail Bharo Andolan’, demanding release of their leader Hardik Patel. (PTI Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home district in Gujarat was brought under curfew and internet services suspended on Sunday after more than two dozen people were wounded as Patidar pro-reservation campaigners clashed with police, demanding jailed leader Hardik Patel’s release.

Violence revisited Mehsana , which is chief minister Anandiben Patel’s home district too, when thousands of members of the Patidar or Patel community took out a rally against 22-year-old Hardik’s detention since October on charges of rioting and sedition.

The district is the epicentre of the economically and politically influential Patels’ movement for reservation in education and government jobs, which they have been demanding since July 2015.

The protesters under the banner of the Hardik-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti and Sardar Patel Group called a statewide bandh on Monday after police charged them with sticks, fired tear gas shells and used water cannons.

Angry protesters reportedly threw stones at police and set ablaze an unspecified numbers of buildings and vehicles when authorities stopped them on the way to prison where they wanted to court arrest as part of their “jail bharo” programme.

Offices of ministers Nitin Patel and Rajnikant Patel were ransacked, a bus was set ablaze and police vehicles were damaged by the mob. Mobile internet services were blocked in Mehsana, Surat, Rajkot and Ahmedabad districts till April 19.

Read: Behind bars on sedition charges, Hardik Patel turns author

Union home minister Rajnath Singh spoke to chief minister Anandiben, who informed him about the situation in the BJP-ruled state.

But at a function in Dharmpur, she said: “Such agitations keep happening. Our work is to serve the people.”

Hardik’s mentor and Sardar Patel Group leader Lalji Patel, who was wounded near Mehsana sub-jail, called the chief minister’s statement “irresponsible” while Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela blamed the “government’s inaction” that forced Patidars to resuscitate their stir.

The police were prepared as the Mehsana administration on Saturday denied permission for the programme, calling it anti-national and illegal.

“Some antisocial elements started pelting stones after which clashes broke out,” director general of police PP Pandey said.

The violence broke out a day before a crucial meeting between Patidar leaders and the government to break the reservation deadlock.

The community had submitted a 27-point charter of demands but after talks failed on April 11.

Sources said the government is likely to offer two proposals — reservation to the economically backward section of society and setting up a commission to address the Patidars’ demands.

“The meeting will go ahead as scheduled. What happened today is a law-and-order issue,” said health minister Nitin Patel.

But Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti and Sardar Patel Group might boycott the meeting.

The Hardik group’s convener, Atul Patel, said no dialogue can take place in such an atmosphere. “On one hand the government talks about negotiation, on the other they keep on opposing Hardik’s bail pleas.”

The Patidars stir, demanding reservation benefits since July 2015, caught national attention in August when seven people were killed and public property worth Rs 40 crore damaged during clashes with police.

Hardik and three of his aides were charged with sedition and put in jail in October, a move that managed to calm down the aggressive campaign. The stir is considered one of the reasons behind the ruling BJP’s panchayat elections debacle in December.

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