At least half a million protesters paralysed Ahmedabad on Tuesday to demand preferential treatment for their Patidar caste -- one of the state's most affluent -- and their stir turned violent later in the day after a brief detention of their leader Hardik Patel.
On a day packed with high drama, the 22-year-old Hardik, who has been spearheading the Patel community's agitation for reservations, was briefly detained by Gujarat Police for launching a hunger strike after a rally was conducted at the GMDC ground without permission. Nearly 20,000 security personnel were deployed in Ahmedabad for Tuesday's rally and roads within a two-kilometre radius of the venue were closed to traffic.
The stir turned violent after his detention and clashes were reported in various parts of the city where police resorted to baton-charge and lobbed teargas shells to control the situation. He was soon released on bail. Fire department officials said at least four buses were torched by the mob.
"Violence has occurred at a number of places in Ahmedabad after Hardik Patel's arrest. Efforts are on to control the situation," additional commissioner of police Rajiv Ranjan Bhagat said.
As tension mounted, chief minister Anandiben Patel tweeted: "My sincere appeal to the people of Gujarat to maintain peace and not to indulge in activities disrupting law and order across the state."
"I urge people to refrain from spreading and believing any rumours and support state administration in maintaining peace & harmony across Gujarat."
Have asked Police Commissioner to carry out thorough investigation in series of events & appropriate action will be taken against the guilty— Anandiben Patel (@anandibenpatel) August 25, 2015
In a mega show of strength to push their demand for inclusion in OBC category for reservation, the Patel community -- led by Hardik -- warned the BJP government in Gujarat that it will face consequences in 2017 assembly polls if the plea is not accepted.
The Patidars, or Patels, who make up around 12% of the population of Gujarat say they are struggling to compete with less privileged castes for jobs and university places.
"If you do not give our right (reservation), we will snatch it. Whoever will talk of interest of Patels will rule over Patels," Hardik told the gathering.
"In 1985, we had uprooted Congress from Gujarat, today there is BJP. 2017 (state election year) is coming...lotus will not bloom in the mud, it will never bloom. If you will talk about our interest then only we will nurture your lotus," he said, warning the state government. Lotus is the BJP party symbol.
State authorities have already ruled out granting the Patidars' request, but their campaign has gathered pace in recent weeks.
Hardik's aide and spokesperson of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, Chirag Patel, alleged that the police beat up protesters during Tuesday's campaign, and even some children and women were at the receiving end.
"Police first switched off all the lights at GMDC ground and then took Hardik somewhere. Before that police lathicharged and even beat up women and small children," Chirag alleged.
During the massive rally, Hardik made a sudden announcement that he will sit on a hunger strike, and demanded that the CM should come to the venue to accept memorandum of the Samiti.
Ketan Patel, Nikhil Savani and Dhiru Mandaviya had joined Hardik in the hunger strike. According to Hardik, Nikhil Savani was on indefinite hunger strike, while he and two others will be on hunger strike for 48 hours.
"We expect the CM to come here in two days. We will announce future course of action after that," Hardik said.
In his reaction, Gujarat health minister Nitin Patel, who heads the seven-member committee formed by the Gujarat government to listen to the demands of communities agitating for job reservation quota, said the state government did not have to say anything about the ultimatum.
"Let them sit on hunger strike. The Gujarat government does not have to do anything in that regard," the minister said.