Three months after their violent agitation left 30 dead, Jat leaders on Sunday renewed their quota stir in Haryana which was restricted to small meetings in 15 districts amid tight security by the Bharatiya Janata Party government which had drawn flak over its handling of the protest last time.
"It has been peaceful so far," Haryana's Additional Director General Police (Law and Order) Muhammad Akil said as nearly 20,000 security personnel from central and state forces kept a a close vigil across the state, including on national highways and railway tracks which the protesters had blocked for several days in February.
Jat leaders in Jassia village of Rohtak district, the epicentre of violence during the stir, held a 'havan' as they started the second round of the agitation on a tepid note with influential Khap panchayats and some Jat factions distancing themselves from the protests.
All India Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti, which gave the call for the protest, pitched a tent along the Rohtak-Panipat highway just outside Jassia and also held dharnas in 15 of the state's 21 districts.
The Jat protesters are demanding quota under OBC category, withdrawal of cases registered against community members during the previous stir, status of martyrs for those killed and jobs for their next of kin, besides compensation for the injured.
The agitation this time was restricted to so called 'Jat belt' comprising districts like Jhajjar, Sonipat, Rohtak, Panipat, Hisar, Fatehabad and Jind. "There are small groups of protesters mainly in the rural areas. At some places, the protesters handed over memorandums to district authorities," an official said.
Prohibitory orders were clamped at sensitive places in these districts and security forces conducted flag marches as the administration geared up to ensure that there is no repeat of earlier incidents when 30 people were killed, property worth hundreds of crores of rupees destroyed and key routes blocked by agitators.
A special round-the-clock control room was set up in Chandigarh to monitor the situation. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, senior officials including the Chief Secretary, the home secretary, the state DGP, were keeping a close watch on the situation, officials said.
AIJASS Hisar president Rambhagat Malik said, "We are committed to holding dharnas in a peaceful manner." After the Jat agitation, which paralysed normal life in Haryana and affected Delhi and other neighbouring states too, the state government recently brought in laws to provide reservation for Jats and five other communities under a newly carved Backward Classes (C) category.
However, the high court stayed it, acting on a public interest litigation, after which some Jat groups announced the fresh stir.
In Hisar, members of the Jat community started an indefinite dharna at a stadium in village Mayyar away from railway tracks and national highway, the police said. Addressing the protesters, Jat leaders accused the Haryana government of not being serious towards their demand for reservation.
The Jat leaders said in case the government did not respond to their demands in a positive manner, they would be left with no other option but to take to the streets.
"The dharnas have been peaceful. People have the right to put forth their views in a democratic set up but it should be within the ambit of law," state Agricultural Minister O P Dhankar said.
"We had fulfilled their demand but it was challenged in court. The state government is doing the needful," he said.
IMAGE: Security personnel guard at the railway station in Gurgaon as they are being deployed at various sensitive places in the view of Jat agitation. Photoghraph: PTI