Army columns deployed in Haryana as Jat protesters refuse to back down

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Feb 21, 2016 15:32 IST
Indian army soldiers conduct a flag march at Rohtak. (AP Photo)

Hundreds of Jat protesters started a fire at a railway station in Haryana and blocked the Delhi-Chandigarh highway on Sunday as the army deployed 1,200 more personnel to control the violent demonstrations for quotas in jobs and education.

In other incidents, agitators vandalised a petrol pump and blocked roads in Jind.

To control the situation, additional troops were sent to the state.

“ Army 69 columns have reached Haryana and have been deployed, maximum in Jhajjar and Rohtak,” said YP Singhal, director general of police.

Security personnel used government vehicles to help people stranded in their houses for over a week in Rohtak town – the epicenter of the protests that has virtually been taken over by around 10,000 protesters.

Meanwhile, Haryana minister Anil Vij made it clear that talks cannot be held with a “mob” and said Jats should form a committee to hold parleys with the state government.

He said the agitation has become leaderless and “mobocracy” was prevailing.

“At the moment, the ongoing agitation has become leaderless. It is like mobocracy (rule of the mob). The Jats should immediately form a Committee to hold talks with the government. We cannot hold talks with the mob,” the minister said.

Vij said the BJP Government was committed to granting OBC quota to Jats.

“Our government, be it in the State or at the Centre, is committed to give OBC reservation to Jats, but it is for the Jats to decide whether they want to give us time so that we can come out with something concrete which later does not get struck down by the courts,” Vij told PTI.

Top political leaders including chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar appealed for calm and peace but violence and arson continued through the night, crippling normal life in several places such as Rohtak, Jind, Bhiwani, Jhajjar, Sonepat and Hisar.

The government has struggled to keep the lid on the protests that have claimed eight lives already. Jat and Khap leaders are scheduled to meet home minister Rajnath Singh at 3pm to hammer out a possible solution.

Army during a flagmarch in Rohtak city under curfew following the Jats protests. (PTI)

In an emergency meeting on Sunday, cabinet secretary PK Sinha reviewed the law and order situation in the state Haryana with top officials, directing authorities to take strict action against miscreants. The Rewari- Jhajjar road was reopened and the situation was fast returning to normal, a government spokesperson said.

But tensions simmered on the ground as angry mobs wielding sticks and guns set fire to shops, ATMs, looted non-Jat property and used trees to block highways and rail networks, leaving thousands of people stranded.

Authorities used helicopters to bring in army and paramilitary soldiers after angry mobs dug up roads and used trucks and buses to seal off the districts of Bhiwani, Jhajjar and Rohtak.

As many as 15 companies of the India Reserve Battalion and Haryana Armed Police, three companies of paramilitary forces and two columns of Army have already been deployed. The Haryana government sought to deploy additional companies of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and more columns of Army to control the violent demonstrations.

A delegation of the western UP and Delhi-NCR Jat community's leaders coming out after meeting with home minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi on Saturday. (PTI)

The Jat stir has severely hit the movement of more than 800 trains, and seven railway stations in the state , including Jhajjar, Buddha Khera, Julana and Pillu Kheda, were set on fire by the protesters.

The country’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki India suspended operations at its two plants in Gurgaon and Manesar as component supplies have been hit by the agitation of Jats demanding job reservation.

On Saturday, CM Khattar had appealed the protesters to end their stir and “return to their homes as the government has accepted their demands”, but he did not elaborate.

But several Jat leaders refused to call off the pro-quota agitation unless the government promulgated an ordinance to include the community in the OBC category.

The road and rail traffic through Haryana and destined to neighbouring states, including Delhi, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and Chandigarh remained disrupted with authorities cancelling bus and train services on most routes in the wake of continuing blockade.

In Sonipat district’s Gohana, members of other communities including the Valmikis, also protested against the Jats, triggering fears of imminent clashes.

Curfew had been clamped in Rohtak, Bhiwani , Jhajjar, Jind, Hisar, Hansi, Sonepat , Gohana towns of Sonipat district.

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