Army called in after 9 deaths in Gujarat riots

Burned buses line a street in Ahmedabad after clashes between the police and protesters in the past two days left at least nine people dead.
Burned buses line a street in Ahmedabad after clashes between the police and protesters in the past two days left at least nine people dead.PHOTO: REUTERS

AHMEDABAD • The Indian army patrolled riot-hit areas of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat yesterday after the death toll rose to nine in two days of caste-related violence.

Clashes spread after police arrested a young leader of the influential Patel clan who led a huge rally on Tuesday to demand more government jobs and college places for members of his community.

The breakdown of law and order revived memories of serious rioting in 2002 in which more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, died. Mr Modi, chief minister of Gujarat at the time, has faced criticism for doing too little to halt the bloodshed.

Six people were killed in police firing and two in the rioting in the past two days. One succumbed to injuries yesterday, said local daily The Hindu.

"Schools, business and private offices will not open today. The mood is tense," said Mr Keshav Shah, a senior police officer in the state capital, Gandhinagar.

Mr Modi has called for calm in the state that he ran for more than a decade before leading his nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to victory in last year's general election.

The Patels, or Patidar community, make up 14 per cent of the population in Gujarat. A relatively affluent group of land and business owners, they had been a bulwark of support for Mr Modi.

Members of the Patel community said they will continue to demand changes to policies that, they argue, unfairly favour groups at the lower end of India's social order.

"We will not let the government suppress our demands. They can kill as many Patels as they want," said activist Hardik Patel, 21, who drew a crowd of half a million to a rally on Tuesday in the city of Ahmedabad, where his detention led to clashes between police and protesters, forcing the authorities to release him.

India sets aside a proportion of government jobs and university places for some castes, under measures intended to bring victims of the worst discrimination into the mainstream. But the policy causes resentment among other communities who say it freezes them out.

An Agence France-Presse reporter in Ahmedabad said the streets were calm yesterday, with shops and businesses beginning to reopen in some areas and large numbers of security personnel on the streets.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2015, with the headline 'Army called in after 9 deaths in Gujarat riots'. Print Edition | Subscribe