Retired Colonel Kirrori Singh Bainsla is a charming rustic. He is suave with the media holding forth in both shudh Hindi and impeccable English -- and commanding with his people.
Testimony to his leadership qualities is the thousands of Gujjars who have rallied around him as he sits in a makeshift tent erected in the middle of nowhere on the Delhi-Mumbai rail line. A shrewd tactician he was a government school teacher before he joined the army as a sepoy and rose to the rank of colonel -- he has marshalled his troops to the optimum. But even the erudite colonel knows that he is caught in a stalemate.
His supplies are running out, the morale of the young is on a downward spiral, and it is said that most of his men are against giving up though he wants a respectable way out of the standoff.
The piles of rotis stacked in tractors in Bayana are fast dwindling as the standoff entered the fifth day, and the army has circled him from all sides and is choking the supplies.
Despite facing the heat from all sides, Bainsla is a picture of calm. The colonel, who is clad in spotless white and has somehow managed to find time for his daily shaves, stands out in the crowd of dirt-laced men stuttering around with five-day stubbles.
With extremely poor cell phone network in the region, his attempts to project a calm exterior is belied every time he pulls a journalist aside to know what the situation is "outside".
In this interview with Special Correspondent Krishnakumar, Col Bainsla spoke about the police action, the police firing and his plans to end the stalemate.
Two days ago, you said you will see the letter written by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje to the Centre recommending reservations for the Gujjars. Have you seen the letter?
No. I haven't. From hearsay, I understand that she has suggested 4-6 per cent reservation for the Gujjars under the denotified class. Some are saying it is a reminder about the earlier letter she had sent to the Centre last year. We do not know. The government hasn't communicated to us the contents of the letter.
What made the Gujjars spurn the Rs 280+ crore special package and restart the agitation after a lull (the Gujjars had called off their agitation in 2007 after the state promised to address their concerns)?
It is wrong to say that there was a lull. The movement was as strong as it was earlier. There was no need to restart. How would you know sitting in Delhi that the movement was as strong as ever?
Don't you regret the violence and the loss of life in the police firing?
Yes, I do regret the loss of life. But the police firing was unprovoked and one-sided. It was not fair on their part at all to open fire at a peaceful gathering. What General Dyer did in Jallianwala Bagh, the Raje government did in Sikandra and Bayana. Sikandra and Bayana are the Jallianwala Bagh of the Gujjars.
The army has moved in. They are cutting away your supplies
They are our brothers. They guard the nation's borders. They are in a noble profession. They are not mercenaries who will kill innocent civilians on the orders of the State. The army knows this more than anybody.
But if the army does take any action against us, we will not retaliate. It shall be one-sided. Again nobody knows this better than the Army. So, they will think twice before doing anything. Having said that, I would also add that we are determined to see this fight off. We are not budging.
What is it that you are expecting from the state government?
See, we understand that reservation is something that the central government has to do. But this state government promised in the run-up to the previous election that it will do all it can to secure us Scheduled Tribe status. It has failed to do so and there are only a few months to go before its term ends. The first two years we spoke to them about it and they didn't take us seriously. So, we had to resort to agitation. But one must not forget that we are merely holding the government to its promise.
Isn't it a bit odd that a community is going this length to ensure that its status be lowered by one rung in the social ladder?
Who said so? What are you talking about? We want reservation and the way to get it is by getting the Scheduled Tribe status. En masse illiteracy and backwardness prevail in the community. The community is wallowing in abject poverty. So the only way to enable us to join the mainstream is to give us reservation.
There is no way this standoff seems to ebb right now. What is your stand? Do you have a compromise formula in your mind?
There is no compromise. We will not stop or move from the tracks till the time we are granted ST status. That is our final stand and we are not going back this time.