More clashes in volatile Rajasthan, government tries for peace


Jaipur : Arterial highways were blocked as tension continued in Rajasthan Thursday with reports of official property being torched coming in from various parts while the government grappled to find a solution by holding nightlong talks with Gujjars, demanding Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.

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There were indications that the government might give in to the demand of the large farming community, presently classified as other backward classes (OBCc), and send a recommendation letter classifying them as STs by July 1.

Sources said the government had conveyed to the community in the talks, which began around 2.30 a.m. and went on till after 4 a.m., compensation of Rs.500,000 and jobs would be given to the families of those who died in Tuesday's firing – when 17 people were killed in the ethnic upsurge for government sops in education and employment.

The talks were led by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje's close aide Satyanarain Gupta. The second round is to be held at 11 a.m. Thursday.

"It was held in a cordial environment and we are hopeful of an amicable solution to the crisis," a senior state government official said.

The situation continued to be volatile with early morning clashes between police and Gujjars. Reports of protestors torching government properties and vehicles came in from Kota, Sawai Madhopur and Dausa, where the trouble started on Tuesday.

Putting further pressure on Vasundhara Raje, Panchayati Raj Minister Kalu Lal Gujjar and five legislators of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have threatened to resign in the wake of Tuesday's violence in Bundi and Patauli near Dausa.

The death toll in the violence that is spreading to newer areas has touched 17 and at least seven policemen have been reported missing.

Security arrangements have been beefed up across the state following the Gujjar community's call for a complete shutdown. As a result, the Rajasthan Pre-Engineering Test (RPET) that was to be held Thursday has been postponed.

Army and paramilitary forces have been patrolling Bayana in Bharatpur district, Patauli and Bundi. They have also been patrolling the Jaipur-Delhi highway.

Thousands of travellers have been stranded for the last three days as Gujjar protestors have blocked the Jaipur-Agra, Jaipur-Delhi and Jaipur-Kota highways. All bus services between Agra-Jaipur, Delhi-Jaipur and Jaipur-Kota have been suspended as a precautionary measure. Several trains between Delhi and Jaipur have also been cancelled.

"I have been stranded here for the last two days, there is no way I can go from here as the road is blocked. I do not know when I will be able to go from here to Delhi," Naresh Sharma, a resident of Delhi who had come on a pilgrimage to the religious town of Mehandipur, told IANS.

About 9,000 trucks have been stranded at various points along the national highways passing through the state. According to estimates of the Federation of Rajasthan Trade and Industry (FORTI), the loss of revenue per day for the government is estimated to be nearly Rs.50 million.

Meanwhile, the problem for Raje government seems to be compounding. The Meena community, which is presently alone in Scheduled Tribe category in Rajasthan has opposed any move to grant Gujjars the ST tribal status. Meena's are a dominant community in Rajasthan and have been classified as tribals since 1953.

"We would oppose this tooth and nail," a statement by the community, which doesn't want to share the quota pie, said.

There have been reports that some members of the Meena community have burnt and damaged a few private vehicles in Dausa and nearby areas in protest.

The Gujjars constitute four to seven percent of the state's 56 million population. They are presently classified as other backward classes (OBC).