Raje-Gujjar talks remain inconclusive


Jaipur/New Delhi : The crucial fourth round of talks between the Rajasthan government and Gujjars demanding Scheduled Tribe status remained inconclusive late Saturday with the community leaders returning to consult elders on the future course of action even as the state remained relatively peaceful after four days of violence.

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Coming out of the over-seven-hour meeting with the Gujjar leaders here, Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje said that the talks would continue tomorrow.

She also invited Colonel Kirori Lal Bainsla, convenor and main leader of the Gujjar Sangharsh Samiti, the body that is spearheading the agitation, to attend the Sunday meeting.

"The end to this problem can only come through peaceful means and talks," the chief minister said.

She announced compensation of Rs.500,000 for the family of each of those killed in police firing Tuesday, the day violence began.

The Gujjar leaders, however, flatly rejected the invitation for the next round of talks.

However, Roop Singh, a senior leader of the Samiti, told reporters after the meet: "We will go back to Dausa and meet our leaders and people to decide the future course of action."

Before the hopes for a fruitful outcome of crucial talks and a solution to the crisis were dashed, the state had witnessed comparative calm in the day except for reports of burning of a police post in Tonk district.

With unprecedented social unrest affecting the desert state, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stepped in with an appeal for calm while a rattled Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules the state, held a meeting at former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's residence to discuss the crisis.

"The events of the past few days in parts of Rajasthan have caused a great deal of pain and distress to large numbers of people. Sadly, many lives have been lost, plunging their families into grief," he said in a statement.

"I appeal to all the people of Rajasthan and also those in neighbouring states to maintain peace and calm. I appeal to all sections of society to desist from actions which may lead to further violence and distress and which will disrupt the lives of ordinary citizens," he added.

Gujjars' protest demonstrations Tuesday to press for their demand for tribal status, aimed at uplifting their socio-economic conditions, took a violent turn, with 14 people killed in clashes between agitators and police.

The toll reached 25 by Friday evening, but the state was peaceful since.

"No major incidence of violence was reported from any part of the state since Friday evening," a senior police official told IANS.

Moreover, an ugly caste conflict loomed large in Rajasthan with Gujjars and Meenas, the dominant Scheduled Tribe community in the state, clashing over the quota pie given to Scheduled Tribes.

On Friday, five people were killed and 20 injured in clashes between the two groups in Dausa and Karauli districts, officials said.

Looking at the volatile situation, the state government Saturday imposed the National Security Act (NSA) in 11 troubled districts, including Dausa and Sawai Madhopur.

The Gujjar movement has paralysed rail and road traffic in many parts of Rajasthan and virtually cutting it off from the neighbouring states.

Hundreds have been stranded at railway stations and bus depots as the Gujjars continue to block highways leading mainly to Agra. The government said the Jaipur-Delhi highway had been cleared but people were not willing to take the highway.

The railways ran a few trains on the Bharatpur sector Saturday.

The Rajasthan administration has also decided to evacuate over 5,000 pilgrims stranded in Mehandipur, on the Jaipur-Agra highway, with the help of the army.

"We are taking steps to clear the traffic jams on various highways. We have also started running some buses on the Jaipur-Delhi route," Rajasthan Transport Minister Younis Khan said.

Sporadic incidents of violence erupted in parts of the Indian capital as well as neighbouring areas such as Gurgaon district in Haryana and Ghaziabad district in Uttar Pradesh Saturday. In Uttar Pradesh, Gujjar agitators had removed a part of the railway track, affecting the train services between New Delhi and Lucknow.