Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday called for calm in Gujarat as fresh violence rocked parts of the state forcing the Centre to rush additional paramilitary forces as an agitation by the Patel community demanding reservation triggered overnight arson in key cities.
In a brief televised appeal, a solemn-looking Modi appealed for peace in his home state and said violence does not benefit anybody.
“We can reach a solution through negotiations,” Modi said in Gujarati in his first reaction to the agitation which turned violent after the leader of the community Hardik Patel was briefly detained by police on Tuesday.
Modi’s appeal came a day after chief minister Anandiben Patel’s similar call for peace failed to stop violence from spreading.
22-year-old Hardik Patel had addressed a rally of the Patels, also known as the Patidars, in Ahmedabad which was attended by an estimated half-a-million people.
Patel has also called for a state-wide shut-down on Wednesday to press for the community’s demand seeking reservation in government jobs and colleges under the other backward class category (OBC)
Official sources said authorities clamped prohibitory orders in several cities and shut down educational institutions after violent protesters torched police stations, burnt government and private vehicles and pelted stones at security personnel.
As many as 100 buses were torched and property damaged in the violence in Ahmedabad, Surat and Mehsana cities and the towns of Unjha and Visnagar, officials said.
Incidents of stone-pelting were also reported on Wednesday morning from Ahmedabad.
“The agitators clashed with the police and members of the lower castes. They have burnt down nine police stations and over three dozen buses,” PC Thakur, Gujarat director general of police said.
“We had to impose a curfew to control the clashes. Offices, trading houses and educational institutions will not open today.”
Curfew was also imposed in parts of Surat city and Mehsana, in Unjha and Vishnagar town of Mehsana district on Tuesday night.
Hardik Patel, who had appealed for calm after his release overnight on bail, described the agitation as a “battle for rights” in an interview aired by NDTV.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh spoke to chief minister Anandiben Patel on Wednesday morning and assured full central help to tackle the situation.
About 5,000 personnel of Rapid Action Force, CRPF and BSF have been sent to assist the local administration in maintaining law and order, especially in all curfew-bound areas.
“The home ministry is in constant touch with the Gujarat government and additional forces have been rushed as requested by the state government,” a senior official said in Delhi.
In a mega show of strength, the Patel community has warned the BJP government in Gujarat that it will face consequences in 2017 assembly polls if the plea is not accepted.
“If you do not give our right (reservation), we will snatch it. Whoever will talk of interest of Patels will rule over Patels,” Hardik told the gathering on Tuesday.
The Gujarat government had earlier rejected the demand.
Under a Supreme Court ruling, reservations cannot cross the 50A% mark in any state which Gujarat has already reached.