NEW DELHI: The Centre’s Agnipath scheme to recruit youth to the armed forces for an initial period of four years blazed a trail of fiery protests across states on Thursday, with Bihar reporting arson and attacks on BJP offices along with blockades for the second consecutive day, and parts of UP, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Bengal joining in the mayhem.
The agitation that had started in Bihar’s Buxar, Begusarai and Muzaffarpur on Wednesday quickly spread to 17 districts of the state, plunging road and rail communication into a network of disruptions. Protesters, most of them seemingly young job-seekers, blocked trains on the Patna-Gaya and Patna-Buxar routes and stalled highway traffic in Begusarai and Jehanabad.
A BJP office was set ablaze and the vehicle of party MLA Aruna Devi attacked in Nawada. Party legislator Dr C N Gupta’s residence was vandalised at Chhapra in Saran. Another group of protesters ransacked a BJP office in Madhubani. Bogies of at least three trains at Bhabhua, Chhapra and Gopalganj were torched. Windows of another 12 trains were damaged by stone-pelters in different districts.
Two cops, including an SI, and a train passenger were injured in relentless stone-pelting for two hours at Bhabua railway station.
“We prepared for years to get into the armed forces, only to be told that the guaranteed period of employment will be for four years. We want the old recruitment process restored,” said Pushkar Kushawaha, among a group of men squatting on a rail track at Motihari.
“What will we do after four years of service? The government has said that only 25% of the recruited people will continue for another 15 years under permanent commission,” said Rakesh Kumar, a native of Alouli village protesting at Khagaria railwat station.
ADG (law and order) Sanjay Singh said those indulging in vandalism and damaging public property would be identified through video footage and penalised. He suggested these job-seekers could face a “grim future” in terms of employability.
Internet and text messaging suspended for 24 hours and Section 144 clamped in Haryana’s Palwal after protesters pelted police with stones and set fire to vehicles, triggering a baton-charge. At least 14 of the protesters were arrested. “We are checking videos uploaded on social media and CCTV cameras to identify those who indulged in violence,” said SP Mukesh Malhotra.
Two special investigation teams were formed to look into the violence.
In western UP, hundreds of vehicles and commuters were stranded on the Agra-Delhi highway for nearly two hours after protesters blocked it from both sides near Raipura Jat village in Mathura. A state-run bus passing by Agra’s Bah was pelted with stones. The police baton-charged protesters and detained several for blocking the city’s MG Road for almost an hour.
Aligarh saw groups of stick-wielding youth hit the Delhi-Gabhana road. Protesters also jammed roads in the Khurja region of Bulandshahr and Meerut districts in the morning.
Hours before PM Narendra Modi’s roadshow in HP’s Dharamshala, protesters blocked the Pathankot-Mandi highway in Gagaal town of Kangra district. The commotion lasted for several hours as the group raised slogans against the PM and tore posters featuring BJP functionaries. As the protesters marched towards Dharamshala, there was a brief scuffle with the police before several of them were detained.
Hundreds of youth under the banner of Youth Congress held protests at Gandhi Chowk in Hamirpur. They burnt effigies of PM Modi and Himachal CM Jai Ram Thakur.
Protests also broke out across Congress-governed Rajasthan, with the police using force to disperse mobs in Sikar, Bhilwara and Jodhpur. In Jaipur, traffic came to a halt in the collectorate area of Bani Park after several young men, led by RLP’s Hanuman Beniwal, converged on the area. Beniwal had said on Wednesday that he was part of a delegation that met defence minister Rajnath Singh, urging him to organise army recruitment rallies. He said Singh assured the delegation of a “two-year relaxation” in the implementation of new recruitment rules.
Groups of protesters also blocked the Ajmer-Delhi highway near Karni Vihar, In Udaipur, protesters swelled outside the district collector’s office, raising slogans against the central government and handing over a memorandum to the ADM. Some protesters in Jodhpur hurled stones at the police when they were being dispersed.
In Barmer, RLP workers and youths stopped a train, leading to a face-off with the police before they fled.
Section 144 was clamped in five police station areas of MP’s Mhow late Thursday as a preventive measure.
Bengal’s North 24-Parganas district witnessed a protest by a 100-strong group that blocked traffic in Bhatpara and left the roads littered with burning tyres.