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Violence in Rajasthan spreads


Jaipur : Thousands of people were stranded, public property burnt, train tracks damaged and arterial highways blocked Thursday as the movement by the Gujjar community to get Scheduled Tribe status in Rajasthan snowballed and the government struggled for a peace formula.

"The situation is really bad," a senior government official admitted as reports came in of mobs burning a Public Works Department road post in Tonk. Police posts and vehicles were torched at Sawai Madhopur, Jhalawar, Nasirabad and Ajmer.

Damage to railway tracks was reported from Nadbai in Bharatpur as well as Ajmer and Dausa. The escalating trouble led to the Indian Railways cancelling 23 trains to and from Rajasthan and rescheduling one more. These included the Ahmedabad and Mumbai Rajdhanis.

Highways running through Rajasthan were paralysed too leading to thousands of travellers being stranded – since Tuesday when the ethnic upsurge for quotas in jobs and education led to 17 people being killed in police firing in Bundi and Patauli near Dausa.

Gujjar protestors have blocked the Jaipur-Agra, Jaipur-Delhi and Jaipur-Kota highways. All bus services were suspended.

Army and paramilitary forces have been patrolling Bayana in Bharatpur district, Patauli and Bundi as well as the Jaipur-Delhi highway. Forces have also been rushed to Kota.

"One of my tourist groups of over 20 have been stranded in Ranthambore for the last two days," said S.K. Singh, a travel agent.

About 9,000 trucks have been stranded too at various points. 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.

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 on Thursday has been postponed.

As the government grappled to find a way out and held nightlong talks with the Gujjar community, there were indications that it 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.

According to officials, the government told the Gujjars during the talks – began around 2.30 a.m. and went on till after 4 a.m. – that it would give compensation of Rs.500,000 and jobs to the families of those who died in Tuesday's firing.

Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje's close aide Satyanarain Gupta, who is trying hard to hammer out an amicable solution along with other cabinet ministers, led the talks.

"In the afternoon they held talks over the phone through mediators and are due to travel again to Dausa for a second round later in the day," the official said.

Putting further pressure on Raje, Panchayati Raj Minister Kalu Lal Gujjar and five legislators of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have threatened to resign.

"This government has failed to tackle the crisis," added B.D. Kalla, state president of the Congress.

Congress leader and MP from Dausa Sachin Pilot, who comes from the Gujjar community, has called for President's Rule in the state.

"The BJP government should resign on moral grounds and President's Rule should be imposed here," Pilot said.

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 status. Meenas are a dominant community in Rajasthan and have been classified as tribals since 1953.