MEHSANA: Curfew was clamped in Mehsana town in Gujarat and mobile internet service banned as a massive rally of the Patel community demanding reservation and immediate release of their jailed leaders turned violent with two buildings being set ablaze and some police vehicles damaged.
"We have imposed a curfew in Mehsana town till tomorrow morning. Mobile internet service has been suspended during this period. The violent mob set ablaze two government properties....a sub-divisional magistrate and a mamlatdar (revenue officer) were injured in the stone-pelting," said Lochan Sehra, Collector of Mehsana, 73 km from Ahmedabad.
A godown of Food Corporation of India and a district office were set on fire, police said, adding 15 persons have been detained in this connection. Five policemen and two officials sustained injuries in the incidents, police said while agitators claimed that 25 of their supporters were injured in police action.
In Surat, police detained 435 Patel agitators who hit the streets after learning about incidents in Mehsana. Surat police commissioner Ashish Bhatia said the situation was under control. Mobile internet services were banned also in Surat and Rajkot as a precautionary measure, district authorities said.
In Mehsana, police used lathicharge and fired teargas shells on the agitators who allegedly engaged in stone- pelting. Patel protesters had gathered at Modhera crossroad as part of the `Jail Bharo' agitation announced by the Sardar Patel Group (SPG), one of the prominent groups seeking OBC quota for the Patel community.
SPG chief Lalji Patel received head injury during the face-off with the police. A blame game erupted with police claiming they resorted to lathicharge only after some started hurling stones at them while Patel alleged that agitators were targeted without any provocation.
"Our protest was peaceful as announced earlier. However, police suddenly hit me and some of our members when we were walking ahead of the procession. I was hit on head. You can see the blood on my face. We were beaten up without any provocation," said Patel, who along with some other agitators were detained by the police.
In-charge DGP of Gujarat P P Pandey claimed the situation deteriorated only after some people resorted to violence. "Police always work to establish peace. The gathering was peaceful initially. However, the situation deteriorated only after some persons resorted to violence and damaged property," Pandey said.
Meanwhile, SPG as well as Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) have given a call for `Gujarat Bandh' tomorrow. "Our Patel brothers were brutally beaten up during the peaceful rally today. Lalji and few other SPG leaders received grievous injuries in the police lathicharge. We condemn this use of excessive force by police and have given a call for Gujarat bandh tomorrow," said SPG spokesperson Purvin Patel, adding that PAAS too supported tomorrow's bandh.
Thousands of Patel community members gathered at Modhera crossroad on the outskirts of the city today to court arrest on a mass scale, pressing for reservation and release of Hardik Patel, who is spearheading the agitation for quota for his community, and three of his aides who are in jail.
Large number of police, with water canons and teargas shell guns, had been deployed at the crossroad. "Police first used the water canons to disperse the mob which attacked some police vehicles. Teargas shells were also fired as the mob started throwing stones. It also set ablaze some private vehicles. The operation to control the situation is still on," said a police control room official.
Health Minister and spokesperson of the Gujarat Government Nitin Patel appealed to the protesters to maintain peace. "Patel leaders (Lalji Patel and others) had earlier promised that even if he is arrested, others will stage peaceful protest. However, violence took place after some people incited others. I appeal to them to maintain peace as all the problems can be solved through dialogue," the minister said.
"We have detained 435 persons from different parts of city, including Katargam, Varachha, Sachin and Athvalines areas, as they came out on roads and staged demonstrations. They are still under detention," said Bhatia in Surat.
"At some places, agitators also tried to block the roads by burning garbage. However, police took swift action and foiled the attempts," he said.