A police constable in Surat was among nine persons killed, six in police firing, Wednesday in a violent turn to the Patel agitation for OBC status and reservation in Gujarat. Authorities called in the Army and placed major cities and towns under curfew as violence spread and police battled mobs attacking police stations, government buildings and resorting to arson, stone-pelting and looting.
The Centre ordered 5,000 paramilitary personnel to Gujarat as Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm in his home state, saying “each and every issue can be resolved through talks”.
WATCH VIDEO: Patel Row Turns Violent: Eight Dead, PM Modi Calls For Peace & There’s More Than Meets The Eye
Speaking in Gujarati on television, Modi said, “I appeal to all brothers and sisters of Gujarat that they should not resort to violence. The only mantra must be shanti.”
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Chief Minister Anandiben Patel and promised central help to deal with the situation. The Chief Minister also made a fresh appeal for peace.
Patel Anamat Andolan Samiti leader Hardik Patel, the 22-year-old whose detention Tuesday after a mammoth rally in Ahmedabad sparked violence, blamed police and said the agitation for OBC status would be intensified. He claimed that police were cracking down on his “movement” at the behest of politicians.
Late Wednesday night, Patel said he was going to call off his fast for the “sake of peace”. In view of the bandh called by his organisation, schools, colleges, banks, business establishments remained closed at most places. Public transport was off the roads and the buses that plied were targeted by mobs.
In his statement to the people of Gujarat, the Prime Minister referred to Hardik Patel’s rally in Ahmedabad Tuesday and the violence that followed his detention. “Since yesterday, the type of atmosphere that is building up in the land of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, the manner in which violence is being used as a tool… we all know that violence serves no purpose.”
“We have always believed that the development of the state is possible only if we all walk together and stay united. It is my appeal to my brothers and sisters that the occasion calls for a single mantra — ‘peace’. Each and every issue can be resolved through talks,” Modi said.
“We all should follow the spirit of democracy. We must work together to solve problems through talks and to contribute in efforts to take Gujarat to new heights. This is my humble request to all the brothers and sisters of Gujarat,” he said.
The worst-hit appeared to be Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot and Mehsana. Two persons fell to police bullets in Palanpur. They were killed when police fired on a mob trying to torch the Gadh police station near Palanpur town.
In Surat, police constable Dilip Rathwa, 29, was reportedly killed in mob violence. “We got a call that the public had come out on the road… As we were marching ahead, the mob caught hold of Rathwa and pelted him with stones. They beat him with sticks and iron rods… We rushed him to hospital, where he was declared dead,” said Chowk Bazaar Police Inspector M N Chawda.
In Ahmedabad, a man and his son were killed in police firing in Vastra area — a mob snatched a service weapon from a sub-inspector, prompting police to open fire — while another succumbed to injuries in Sola.
Two persons were killed in Modhera and another lost his life in Bapunagar.
Curfew has been clamped in Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Mehsana, Patan, Palanpur, Unjha, Visnagar and Jamnagar.
Officials said Army columns had been called to Ahmedabad city to control the law and order situation since violence had escalated. The Army will conduct flag-march on five routes of the city. Troops were also sent to Surat and Mehsana.
P P Pandey, Director General of Police (Law and Order), said Ahmedabad witnessed maximum clashes while Mehsana, the stronghold of the Patel community, remained volatile the entire day.
The Ahmedabad-Delhi Rajdhani and Ashram Express trains were cancelled in view of targeted attacks on trains in Ghatlodia and Chandlodia in Ahmedabad.
In Surat’s Kapodara area, police fired five rounds when a mob went to shut down a textile mill to ensure total bandh — this even as the area was under curfew.
In Dindoli area of Surat, a person was stabbed and there were clashes between migrants and Patidars. In some places in Surat and Rajkot, looting was reported. In Surat, a bank ATM was broken and looted.
Surat Police Commissioner Rakesh Asthaana said, “Several incidents like torching of buses, and fire have been reported from the city. We have been on our toes since Tuesday trying to control the situation.”
In Vadodara, those targeted by the mob included BJP MP Ranjanben Bhatt whose office in Nizampura was vandalized.