Two killed in Rajasthan, Raje talk to Gujjars


Jaipur/New Delhi : Two people were killed in Rajasthan Thursday in clashes between members of the Gujjar community and police, hours after the state government finally opened talks over Gujjar demands for tribal status.

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As violence spread, hundreds of Gujjars stage demonstrations in Delhi and its satellite towns of NOIDA and Gurgaon, burning effigies of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, blocking roads and causing traffic snarls.

Two people were killed in police firing at in Sawai Madhopur district, about 170 km from here, a senior district police officer told IANS over phone. The casualties took to 19 the death toll in three days of violence. At least seven policemen are reported to be missing.

"Police had to fire to disperse a violent mob that was burning public properties and damaging highways and railway tracks," the officer said. Police also reported clashes between agitators and policemen at Nadbai in Bharatpur district, 170 km from here.

Violence continued to spread further across the state in spite of calls for calm by leaders of the Gujjar Sangharsh Samiti that is leading the agitation.

A group of protesters attacked and damaged government properties at Kotputli along the busy Jaipur-Delhi highway, while police posts were burnt at Virat Nagar. Protest actions were also reported from the Hindu holy town of Pushkar.

For the third day Rajasthan was cut off from Delhi, Agra and Madhya Pradesh as protesting Gujjars continued to block arterial highways. Many bus and train services along key routes have either been cancelled or diverted.

Faced with Rajasthan's worst violence in decades, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje held the first round of talks with Gujjar representatives from 2.30 a.m. to 4.00 a.m. Thursday.

Sources said the government told community representatives it would meet their demand for a compensation of Rs.500,000 and a government job each for the families of the 14 people killed in police firing Tuesday.

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

The second round was slated to be held at an undisclosed place in Jaipur later in the day.

Raje's close aide Satyanarain Gupta led the government at the talks.

Gujjars, who make up four to seven percent of the state's 56 million population, have been demanding Scheduled Tribe status in order to secure better job and educational opportunities. Tuesday's police firing brought a welter of criticism against the Raje government, including from members of her own poverty and government.

However, the Meena community, which alone has Scheduled Tribe status in Rajasthan, Thursday opposed any move to grant Gujjars the same status.

"We will oppose the move tooth and nail," said a statement from the community, which doesn't want to share government benefits.

Reports of violence Thursday included acts of arson at Kota, Sawai Madhopur and Dausa towns, where the trouble started Tuesday. Army and paramilitary troops have been patrolling key violence-hit towns and the Jaipur-Delhi highway.

A group of foreigners – stuck at Ranthambore, a tiger sanctuary – were among thousands of tourists and commuters who have been stranded across the state for the last three.

"A group of 20 tourists has been stranded in Ranthambore for the past two days. I don't know how to bring them to Jaipur. I have advised them to stay put in a hotel," S.K. Singh, a travel agent, said.