A fresh wave of violent protests swept through Gujarat on Saturday as the police detained and arrested, before ultimately releasing on bail, the leader of the Patidar agitation, Hardik Patel, in Surat.
Chief Minister Anandiben Patel had an emergency meeting with her ministerial colleagues at her residence in the evening, after which instructions went out to all collectors and superintendents of police to stay put at their district headquarters on Sunday.
Beginning from late afternoon, with Hardik under detention, Patidars clashed with police in Ahmedabad, Mehsana, Botad and Surat. In Surat’s Varachha area, a mob set on fire a GSRTC bus that had brought in SRP battalions a few hours earlier. Police lobbed teargas shells to scatter the protesters.
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Hardik, convener of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), was detained in the morning after he surfaced in Surat’s Mangadh Chowk locality to begin his Ekta Yatra without police permission. Some 25 of his associates were also detained, and taken to the police headquarters.
Late in the evening, Hardik, along with 36 associates, was put under arrest, and was held at the office of the Surat Crime Branch. A little after 11 pm, however, formalities were begun for their release on bail. Hardik was expected to address reporters after his release.
Soon after detaining Hardik and his associates, the authorities shut down mobile Internet services in Surat city to prevent the spread of rumours. Authorities in all districts were subsequently instructed to take a decision on shutting down mobile Internet services depending on the situation in their areas.
“There is no blanket ban on mobile Internet in the state,” DGP P C Thakur said. All police commissioners and offices of district superintendents of police have been asked to take a decision on banning mobile Internet service depending upon the circumstances in their respective jurisdictions,” he said.
By afternoon, mobile Internet was shut down in the other three major cities of the state — Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Rajkot — as well.
In Ahmedabad, Commissioner Shivanand Jha issued a notification shutting down services until Sunday afternoon. In Rajkot, the service was suspended for a week, even though Police Commissioner Mohan Jha said the ban might be lifted early, “depending upon the situation”.
Vadodara Police Commissioner E Radhakrishna said, “The notification has been issued to ban mobile Internet and 2G and 3G services indefinitely. We will review the situation tomorrow.”
On Friday night, Hardik had visited 10-odd Ganesh pandals in Surat’s Patidar-dominated areas. He had then met PAAS members from the city, who subsequently announced they would begin the Ekta Yatra at 5.30 am from NH-8 at Kamrej. However, nobody turned up at Kamrej, where there was heavy police bandobast.
Hardik emerged from a friend’s home in the Varachha area around 9 am, and went straight to Mangadh Chowk, where he garlanded a statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. He then sought to begin his march, and was immediately detained along with his associates Alpesh Kathiria and Dinesh Patel.
As the atmosphere turned tense, PAAS supporters started coming out on the streets by afternoon, and attempted to force the diamond trading offices in the mini Hira Bazaar market area to shut down. Later, Patidar women started appearing on the streets in Surat, Mehsana and Ahmedabad, beating steel plates with rolling pins.
In Ahmedabad, Patidar protesters clashed with police in the Bapunagar area on NH-8, and with another community in Rabari Colony. Hundreds of men and women blocked the highway, which affected traffic at Thakkarbapanagar, Rabari Colony, Naroda and Vastral. A senior police officer said the protesters threw stones, and as the tension escalated, police resorted to a lathicharge. The situation was, however, brought under control, Joint Commissioner of Police, Sector 2, Manoj Shashidhar, said.
In Botad district, mobs damaged a state transport bus, and police carried out a lathicharge. One incident of violence was reported in Morbi, Saurashtra. Police carried out a lathicharge in Visnagar, Mehsana, which had been among the worst affected in the earlier phase of protests that began on August 25.
Police said Saturday’s protests saw more women — wielding plates, spoons and rolling pins — on the streets than in the earlier phase of the agitation. The women were seen shielding male protesters while taking on the police.
“There have been no major incidents. We have deployed 12 companies each of the BSF and RAF, besides our own forces. So far, the situation is under control,” Inspector General of Police, Law and Order, Manoj Agrawal, said.
Speaking at a public function in Surat district, the Chief Minister assured the state’s youth that no injustice would be done to them.
However, she said, the law would take its course against those who tried to disrupt the state’s journey of development.
Addressing a gathering to mark the acquisition of 900 acres of land for Sumul Dairy in Mandvi taluka of Surat district to set up a cattle-breeding centre, Anandiben said it was the collective responsibility of all citizens to ensure that the \prestige that the state had earned globally remained intact.