Protests were held in several major cities and towns of Gujarat, leading to police caning and use of tear gas on crowds opposing the detention of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convenor Hardik Patel here on Saturday.
Protests, road blocks, highway blockage with women supporters and youth coming out in large numbers, were witnessed in Surat, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Navsari, Mehsana, Jamnagar, Botad and other towns and villages.
In Surat and Ahmedabad, mobs pelted stones and damaged some public buses and other vehicles, compelling the security forces to fire at least four tear gas shells to disperse the crowds.
Crowds of villagers in Botad were caned when they attempted to block the state and national highways passing through the district.
Police have deployed heavy security in all major cities and towns and attempted to prevent gathering of people with prohibitory orders.
As a precautionary measure, the Gujarat authorities have suspended mobile internet 2G and 3G services in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Rajkot, for periods ranging from 24 hours – till Sunday afternoon – to one week, subject to improvement in the situation.
Chief Minister Anandiben was closeted in a meeting with her cabinet colleagues and top officials to take stock of the situation and appealed to the people of the state to maintain peace.
The day’s developments came after the preventive detention of Hardik Patel, 22, and around 50 supporters when they attempted to launch an ‘Ekta Rally’, in Surat in the morning.
The rally, which the police declared as “unauthorised”, was to press for the caste-based reservations for the Patel community spearheaded by PAAS.
While Hardik Patel and some 20 others were detained at Mangad Chowk, another supporting group led by Nikhil Patel and others was detained in Hirabagh locality.
Shortly after the detentions, Hardik Patel accused police of harassing the Patidars even though they wanted to take out a peaceful rally. He also alleged that the Gujarat government was “harassing everybody”.
“The Gujarat government is provoking violence. Though ours is a peaceful agitation. We request the people of the state for support. We are not against any community, but just fighting to get reservations for our community,” Hardik Patel said earlier in the day.
PAAS termed the detentions as “illegal and bulldozing of democracy by the Gujarat government” which was acting at the Centre’s behest.
An opposing group, the OBC Ekta Manch, threatened to take out a ‘Pratikar Rally’ protesting against the reservations sought by the Patidars.
However, the city administration refused permission to the OBC Ekta Manch to hold its rally, apprehending a potential law and order situation.