Deadly clashes hit In­dian leader’s home state

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

At least six peo­ple have died in the worst vi­o­lence to hit Naren­dra Modi's home state in more than a decade, po­lice said Wed­nes­day, as the In­dian prime min­is­ter ap­pealed for calm.

Author­i­ties in western Gu­jarat state said the army had been de­ployed to try to re­store peace af­ter a mass rally turned vi­o­lent, with protesters torch­ing cars, buses and po­lice sta­tions.

The vi­o­lence ap­pears to have been trig­gered by the de­ten­tion late Tues­day of the 22-year-old leader of a mass move­ment by the Pati­dar or Pa­tel caste to de­mand pref­er­en­tial treat­ment for jobs and univer­sity places.

Di­rec­tor gen­eral of po­lice P.P. Pande told AFP three peo­ple had been killed in the main city of Ahmed­abad, where an es­ti­mated half a mil­lion peo­ple gath­ered for a rally on Tues­day.

The vi­o­lence later spread to other parts of the state and another two peo­ple were killed when po­lice opened fire on ri­ot­ers early Wed­nes­day in Banaskan­tha dis­trict.

A sixth pro­tester died in Mehsana dis­trict later Wed­nes­day, also in po­lice fir­ing, the dis­trict su­per­in­ten­dent J.R. Mothalia told AFP by phone.

"I ap­peal to all broth­ers and sis­ters of Gu­jarat that they should not re­sort to vi­o­lence," Modi said in a state­ment.

"Vi­o­lence has never done good for any­one. All is­sues can be re­solved peace­fully through talks," said Modi, who served as the state's chief min­is­ter for more than a decade, in a tele­vi­sion ad­dress de­liv­ered in his na­tive Gu­jarati.

Media re­ports said it was the first time the army had to be de­ployed in Gu­jarat since re­li­gious vi­o­lence in 2002 that left more than 1,000 peo­ple dead, most of them Mus­lims.

The streets of Ahmed­abad were de­serted on Wed­nes­day with schools, shops and busi­nesses closed.

But some protests con­tin­ued in Su­rat, the cen­ter of In­dia's lu­cra­tive diamond trade, where lo­cal media said po­lice used tear gas to dis­perse de­mon­stra­tors.

Po­lit­i­cal lead­ers ap­peared to have been taken by sur­prise by the scale of the protest move­ment, which only be­gan ear­lier this year but has rapidly gath­ered pace in re­cent weeks.

The Pati­dars or Pa­tels are one of the state's most af­flu­ent com- mu­ni­ties, but they say they are strug­gling to com­pete with less priv­i­leged castes for jobs.

In­dia sets aside a pro­por­tion of gov­ern­ment jobs and univer­sity places for Dal­its, known as "un­touch­ables," and for so-called "other back­ward castes" un­der mea­sures in­tended to bring vic­tims of the worst dis­crim­i­na­tion into the main­stream.

‘Cult sta­tus’

"Gu­jarat has a long history of com­mu­nal vi­o­lence go­ing back decades, but this phe­nom­e­non is some­thing en­tirely new," said San­deep Bamzai, a vet­eran politi- cal an­a­lyst and jour­nal­ist.

"Ev­ery ob­server is mys­ti­fied by this 22-year-old boy who is lead­ing the ag­i­ta­tion and has ac­quired a cult sta­tus in so lit­tle time."

It re­mains un­clear how Hardik Pa­tel, the 22-year-old self-styled leader of the move­ment, man­aged to mo­bilise such huge num­bers.

State author­i­ties have al­ready ruled out grant­ing the Pati­dars' re­quest.

But their fire­brand leader, who was briefly de­tained on Tues­day but since been re­leased, has vowed to keep up the pres­sure.

"This is a fight for our rights... we will con­tinue with our cam- paign on the roads and the streets," he said in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view Wed­nes­day.

At least a dozen of­fi­cers were in­jured in Tues­day's vi­o­lence, prompt­ing the first cur­few in the state since 2002.

"There was heavy stone pelt­ing of po­lice ve­hi­cles and torch­ing of po­lice sta­tions in Un­jha and Kalol towns," said Gu­jarat's most se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer P.C. Thakur.

As many as 100 buses were torched and prop­erty dam­aged in the vi­o­lence in the cities of Ahmed­abad, Su­rat and Mehsana and the towns of Un­jha and Vis­na­gar, se­nior lo­cal of­fi­cers said.

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