Simmering tensions and lack of trust between police and young activists of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (Paas) is at the root of the ongoing unrest in Gujarat and one of the big reasons that central forces have been called in.
On Tuesday night, after the massive Patel rally, Paas’ young leader Hardik Patel decided to sit on a fast till chief minister Anandiben Patel came to receive a list of demands from him.
The police, however, cane-charged protesters and then arrested the 22-year-old Patel, eyewitnesses say. Angry Paas activists vented their fury on police posts and vehicles through the night and Wednesday morning.
The police firing that followed is reported to have left five people dead.
In the city’s Shahibaug area, a resident of the Dream Plaza Complex pointed to a row of cars, all were missing windowpanes.
“Fifty of the 72 families here are Patels. Late on Tuesday, police came and smashed windowpanes of 40 cars. They said ‘if you want reservation, we will teach you a lesson’,” he said, requesting anonymity fearing police reprisal. Another resident showed a grainy video clip of what he said was a group of policemen attacking a shop.
When asked about the attacks, local police officers refused to go on record. Though informally one of them said Patel boys targeted them, left them injured and burnt their posts. “They don’t listen to their elders. Anger peaked and it’s possible some of our men responded more strongly than they should have,” he said. Some observers say excessive use of force may not be deliberate.
Others see a caste angle -- the force is dominated by Kshatriyas and OBCs who don’t want Patels to get reservation. The government seems to have recognised the trust deficit.
The CM has asked the police not to harass civilians and be judicious in using force. “One of the reasons we have called in the army and paramilitary is to send a message that there will be a neutral force,” a senior official said.