Gujjar protest with the dead - Lakhs block roads, Jaipur cut off
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- Published 30.05.07
Dausa/Peepalkheda, May 30: Several lakh Gujjars blocked highways and cut off Jaipur from most of the country today, refusing to cremate their 11 dead unless the police officers behind yesterday’s firing were tried.
But the state government did little to end the stalemate, shying off the Gujjars’ main demand of Scheduled Tribe status for fear of angering their rivals, the politically powerful Jats and the Meenas who dominate the bureaucracy and police.
The only passion was shown by five Gujjar MLAs of the ruling BJP. The lawmakers, one of them a minister, threatened to resign as chief minister Vasundhara Raje spoke of “stern action” against the protesters while staying silent about probing the firing.
The fire spread across several districts, with mobs torching two police stations, a courtroom, two government offices and eight buses, and police bullets taking another life and injuring five in Bayana town.
On the Jaipur-Agra highway off Peepalkheda, home to most of the victims, the bodies lay slowly decaying in the heat that the ice slabs placed around them fought in vain.
Barely 50 metres away, on an armchair placed atop a tractor in the middle of the road, top Gujjar leader Colonel Kirori Singh Baisna was waving his walking stick in the air.
“The government is behaving like a dictator and needs to be punished for its actions,” he said, surrounded by an endless sea of white dhoti-kurtas: over two lakh protesters were blocking the 100-km stretch from Dausa to Mahwa.
Raje formed a four-minister committee and invited Gujjar leaders for talks in Jaipur, a proposal Baisna dismissed contemptuously.
Government sources threw doubt on how far talks can be successful. “The entire administration has been told by the chief minister’s office that we are not to show weakness. The same has been told to the ministerial team,” an officer known to be close to Raje said.
Even the Opposition Congress, which blamed the government for the firing, skirted the issue of Scheduled Tribe status, wary of stepping into the Jat-Meena-Gujjar caste cauldron.
The Jats, recently added to the list of Other Backward Classes, have cornered most of the panchayat posts, leaving their fellow OBC Gujjars feeling deprived. The Meenas, with clout in the administration, live in close proximity with the Gujjars in the villages, causing them heartburn.
Raje, yet to mention any compensation for the dead, has condemned the protesters in her only official statement.
“Violence is not the culture of Rajasthan. The firing is regrettable but there is no excuse for the violence that followed,” she said.
On the highway, Baisna threw out a challenge. “Eleven of our men have been martyred. Another 5,000 are willing to sacrifice their lives,” he said.
The Centre sent 1,000 paramilitary personnel more after deploying 3,000 yesterday and alerted Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi — whose sizeable Gujjar population has already shown stirrings of passion — to take precautions.