Agitating Gujjars finally sat down with representatives of the Rajasthan government for talks over the community's demand for Scheduled Tribe status on Monday afternoon after 17 days of protests in which 39 people were killed.
Rajasthan Mines Minister LN Dave and Irrigation Minister Sanwar Lal Jat along with irrigation secretary and chief negotiator SN Thanvi and the Bharatpur divisional commissioner reached Bayana in Bharatpur district, about 160 km from here.
They were joined by 37 Gujjar leaders to start this preliminary round of talks at a local school. Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and KS Bainsla, convenor of the Gujjar Sangharsh Aarakshan Samiti (pro-reservation front), did not participate in the discussion.
"The state government has agreed to hold preliminary talks with Gujjar leaders in Bayana today (Monday)," Thanvi told IANS over phone from Bayana before the talks.
Thanvi has been camping in Bayana for the past few days.
"We have agreed for final talks in Jaipur only if the first round of talks proves to be fruitful," Bainsla said.
The decision to accept the Gujjar demand for holding talks in Bayana came after the chief minister discussed the matter with her colleagues in the state's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and senior government officials on Sunday.
Bainsla sent a letter to the government on Friday morning saying that the Gujjars were ready for talks in Bayana but the government rejected the offer and said the talks could only be held in state capital Jaipur.
Responding to this, Bainsla on Saturday evening insisted on Bayana as the talks venue and said the state government was only "increasing opposition" by insisting otherwise.
Bainsla's offer for talks came after some Gujjar leaders from across the country met here for over two hours Friday to frame a charter of demands.
The Gujjars, classified among Other Backward Communities (OBC) in Rajasthan, want to be included in the list of Scheduled Tribes for better education and job opportunities. Bainsla and hundreds of his supporters have been squatting on rail tracks near Dhumaria station, close to Bayana town.
Army and paramilitary forces continued patrolling Bharatpur, Dausa, Sawai Madhopur and Karauli districts to check violence.
Gujjars also held protests all over Rajasthan from May 29 to June 4 last year to press their demand. At least 26 people were killed in the violence then.