The ruling BJP buckled under pressure from protesting Jats on Sunday, as it agreed to introduce a bill in violence-racked Haryana to provide OBC status to the community and set up a panel to examine its demands for reservation in central government jobs.
Sources said the move is likely to prompt an end to the week-long rioting and looting in about a dozen districts that led to about 15 deaths and monetary loss worth nearly Rs 20,000 crore, forcing the Centre to send in thousands of army and paramilitary personnel.
The five-member central committee will be headed by parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu, announced home minister Rajnath Singh while appealing for peace, though sporadic incidents of violence continued late in the evening.
“A bill will be brought in the coming session of the Haryana assembly for granting OBC status to the Jats in the state,” BJP general secretary Anil Jain said after a Jat delegation held an hour-long meeting with Singh.
The government rushed 1,200 army personnel on Sunday to the trouble-torn state in a bid to quell rampaging demonstrators who vandalised shops, blocked highways and set fire to a railway station ticket counter, demanding reservations in jobs and education.
Media reports quoted government sources saying the Centre, for the first time, had given the army a free hand to act against those involved in looting and rioting.
Protesters have attacked the homes of a state minister and a BJP MLA, torched railway stations and staged sit-ins on tracks, blocking hundreds of trains. They also sabotaged pumping equipment at a water treatment plant that provides most of the Capital’s water.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal ordered all schools shut on Monday and rationing of dwindling water supplies as Haryana director general of police YP Singhal said restoring supply to Delhi was a priority.
He, however, said there was no provision in law to give a free hand to the army, which was assisting the administration.
Despite heavy presence of army and paramilitary forces, Jat protesters in Bhiwani and Sonepat districts torched two police outposts, shops and an ATM.
The demonstrations turned into caste clashes in some areas, as two people from a non-Jat community were allegedly killed by demonstrators in Jhajjar district.
Hundreds of Jat youths wielding swords, sickles, iron rods and sticks attacked shops, eateries and vehicles on the Grand Trunk Road, a commercial lifeline between Haryana and Delhi that saw such a blockade for the first time.
Protesters converged on major crossroads – some groups led by elderly women and carrying the national flag – and forced highway petrol pumps across the state to shut down, amid reports that the army was forced to back down in some areas.
Hundreds of trains were cancelled and with the Chandigarh-Delhi highway blocked on Sunday and airfares skyrocketing, thousands of passengers were stranded.
Tensions simmered on the ground as angry mobs wielding sticks and guns set fire to shops, ATMs and looted non-Jat property such as electronics, jewellery, alcohol and branded clothes, especially from the Punjabi community.
With little police presence and emergency helplines down, people in many areas formed local committees to protect themselves from the mobs.
“It’s scary. We hear that they are burning all the vehicles on the roads. As neither the police SOS number (100) nor the women’s helpline (1091) are working, we have little choice but to look out for ourselves,” said Rajesh Dutt, who spent the previous night guarding his locality.
With inputs from agencies