At least seven killed during violence in Prime Minister Modi’s home state as Patel caste protest gathers momentum.
Leaders of a protest movement in India’s western Gujarat state say they will go ahead with a planned march from Sunday to demand jobs in government institutions, despite a ban on demonstrations.
“We will begin our rally at 6:28am local time tomorrow come what may,” said Dinesh Patel, one of the five core members of the protest movement called Patidar Anamat Aandolan Samiti [PAAS].
“We are not afraid of getting arrested, let police arrest us, we are not breaking any laws, we are fighting for our rights,” Patel told Al Jazeera on Saturday.
The proposed two-week long protest rally, which was initially planned to begin last week from Navsari district in western Gujarat, was postponed after authorities refused permission over fear of violence.
“We are not getting permission for the rally. The government and the police are misusing their power,” Hardik Patel, the leader of the protest movement, told Al Jazeera.
The politically dominant group is demanding jobs in government and educational institutions, saying they have not benefited from more than a decade of rapid economic growth.
Shivanand Jha, the police commissioner of Ahmadabad, Gujarat’s biggest city, where the rally will conclude, refused to comment on the issue, while the office of Navsari district collector did not take Al Jazeera’s call.
Dinesh Patel said that government was “continuously pressuring us but we will continue our rally, we will not stop”.
“[The] Government is trying hard to persuade us with offers, but it is just to buy more time nothing else,” he said.
A previous rally attended by close to half a million people from the land-owning caste group on August 25 turned deadly leading to deaths of at least 10 people, including policemen.
Fearing violence, the authorities have so far refused to give permission for the rally, symbolically dubbed as “reverse Dandi yatra”. India’s freedom struggle hero, Mahatma Gandhi, had organised a Dandi march in 1930s against British colonial powers.
“As of now, we have followed all the laws, but if they will again deny permission to us, we will not follow the laws. The Dandi yatra will take place on September 13 whether or not they give us permission,” Hardik told Firstpost last week.
“If violence will take place or if law and order will be breached, then the state government and the police will be responsible for that,” he said.
The current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the state’s chief minister until May last year, had touted Gujarat – one of the country’s most industrialised states – as a model for development.
But Hardik Patel, speaking to NDTV, said that during a decade of Modi’s rule the rich became richer while poor and farmers were left behind, forcing thousands to commit suicide.
The protest leaders have said that they are not averse to seeking the help of other parties in getting their demands fulfilled.
The community has traditionally supported the BJP and the current chief minister of the state, Anandi Ben Patel, belongs to the caste group.
“Any party which will support us we will give our vote to him, it can be any party,” Dinesh Patel said.