Rajasthan stays cut off as violence continues


Jaipur : Rajasthan remained virtually cut off from the rest of the country Friday with highways blocked and train tracks damaged as the Gujjar movement to demand tribe status spiralled out of control and the government issued shoot at sight orders in some parts.

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The government tried desperately to bring things under control and prepared to hold its third round of talks with the large farming community, fighting for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status that would entitle them to quotas in jobs and education.

The talks on Thursday had ended inconclusively, leading to fresh tensions on day four of the trouble – at least 22 people have been killed since Tuesday.

The violence showed no signs of let-up despite leaders of the Gujjar Sangharsh Samiti that is spearheading the agitation calling for calm.

On Friday morning, protesters attacked and tried to damage government property in Bharatpur, Dausa and other parts of the state. Shoot at sight orders were issued in Bharatpur's Bayana district as well.

The trouble in the state affected thousands of people who were stranded at railway stations and bus depots waiting to go home as the Gujjars continued to block arterial highways leading to Agra, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh.

Many bus and train services along key routes have either been cancelled or diverted.

Hundreds of people were stranded in the temple town of Mehandipur Balaji on Jaipur-Agra national highway, for instance, and television footage showed angry pilgrims shouting slogans and asking the administration to arrange for their safe return home.

A defensive government has decided to not give out casualty figures any more.

"We are not here to count dead bodies," said Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria, when asked by reporters how many people had died in Thursday's firing in Boli, Sawai Madhopur.

While two people were killed in police firing Thursday, the toll has gone up to four with two succumbing to their injuries.

As the government grappled with the situation and tried to work out a peace formula, it also had to deal with the looming caste tensions between the Gujjars and the Meenas, which alone has ST status in Rajasthan.

Unwilling to share the quota pie with the Gujjars, who are classified as other backward classes (OBCs), the Meenas have threatened to remove the barricades from the Jaipur-Agra highway.

"If the government is not able to remove barricades as soon as possible, then we will do so," said a statement by the community.

An earlier statement had said that they would oppose any move to give the Gujjars ST status "tooth and nail".

There is fear of violence spreading with Gujjar leaders accusing the state government of inciting Meenas against them.

The Gujjars are hoping for a positive response from the government to their demands.

"The talks were fruitful but inconclusive," said Roop Singh, representative of Gujjar Sangarsh Samiti, after the second round of talks.

"There was a good response from the government and they have promised to give us a positive answer by afternoon," said Singh.

And that may lead to an entire new set of problems for the Vasundhara Raje government.