Ajmer, April 20: The Congress today sought to capitalise on the arrest of Praveen Togadia by launching its election campaign at a massive rally this evening in the city, outside which the VHP leader was taken into custody exactly a week ago.
The mood of the speakers was upbeat at Patel Maidan, less than half-a-km from Ajmer Central jail where Togadia has been kept in judicial custody, but the spirit took a blow as a group of Gujjars punctuated proceedings by shouting for a status revision.
About 30,000 people drawn from the rural areas of the four districts of Ajmer division backed the point speaker after speaker made about people needing relief, employment, water and electricity in the drought-hit state rather than tridents.
But over a hundred aggressive youths in the front rows struck a discordant note by frequently interrupting speakers to demand Scheduled Tribe status for the Gujjar community, which is at present an OBC.
The youths suddenly brandished banners and placards and started shouting slogans when state party president Girija Vyas took the mike. The group aggressively moved towards the dais as all appeals by leaders failed to pacify them.
Vyas handed over the mike to Rama Pilot, MLA and wife of late Rajesh Pilot, a Gujjar leader, hoping her appeal would help restore peace, but in vain.
Labour minister Govind Singh Gujjar, who comes from Ajmer district, went up to the demonstrators, but he, too, was sent back.
The ruckus subsided only when Seva Dal volunteers and police allowed their representative on the dais to convey the demand personally to chief minister Ashok Gehlot.
But they continued to heckle the speakers, including AICC general secretary in charge of Rajasthan Ambika Soni, who tried to calm them by assuring that the government had agreed to look into their demand.
The commotion climaxed when Gehlot came to speak last. Peace was finally restored when the police forcibly took away the most vocal demonstrators.
The main target of the speakers — among them general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad, former Lok Sabha Speaker Balram Jakhar, AICC joint secretary V.K. Hari Prasad, three former chief ministers, Cabinet ministers and the state Youth Congress chief — was Togadia and the VHP and the BJP’s “communal and divisive” policies.
Soni hoped Togadia would return to Gujarat after his release instead of trying to vitiate the communal harmony in the state. Gehlot iterated that law would take its course if anybody tried to break the law.
“Gujarat would not be allowed to be repeated in Rajasthan,” he declared.
They also targeted the Centre for its “failure” to provide adequate assistance to drought-hit Rajasthan. Azad called it political discrimination.
Azad, Soni, Gehlot and Vyas asserted that party president Sonia Gandhi had pressurred the Centre to release whatever assistance had come from Delhi.
The leaders urged the people to support the Congress in the Assembly elections in view of its positive attitude, fulfilment of promises and overall development of the state.
The chief minister came down heavily on the BJP leaders for trying to block Central assistance for drought relief fearing that it would enhance his government’s popularity.