Ahmedabad, Aug 25: Patidar leader Hardik Patel began an indefinite fast at his sprawling farmhouse here today to press for reservation for his community, after the BJP government in Gujarat refused him permission to stage the protest at a public place.
State AAP leaders visited Patel as his fast began and delivered a letter of support from party national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Dalit leader and Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani also visited him and expressed support.
Patel, leader of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) that is heading the agitation for quota for Patidars (Patels) in jobs and education, started his fast at 3 pm in the presence of supporters and several Congress legislators after performing a pooja.
The farmhouse turned into a fortress with the deployment of police personnel in large numbers and anyone entering the premises was frisked.
While Patel alleged that the BJP government denied him permission to stage the fast to thwart his protest, police said it was denied in view of the riot-like situation during the PAAS' 2015 agitation.
"Today is the third anniversary of the Patidar agitation. Two months ago, we had sought permission to stage protest in the form of indefinite fast. But we were not granted permission and therefore, we decided to hold it at my residence," Patel told reporters.
He alleged that police had detained 16,000 of his supporters and set up blockades on highways leading to Ahmedabad to stop others from joining him.
Inspector General of Police (Intelligence) R B Bhrambhatt, however, put the number of detained persons at 158.
"Widespread violence by anti-social elements was reported on August 25, 2015, after the PAAS was given permission to hold a rally.
"Similarly, after a symbolic dharna (sit-in) last week, buses were burnt and damaged in Surat. We have (therefore) denied permission after due diligence," he said.
Bhrambhatt said, "The message going around on social media, propagated by some PAAS leaders, that we have detained 16,000 people is baseless. We have detained only 158 people as a precautionary measure."
Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel alleged that the Patidar leader's protest was sponsored by opposition Congress.
"The protest is being held at the behest of the Congress as the 2019 (Lok Sabha) elections are coming.
"But we are sure that six crore people of the state will not be swayed by any agitation staged by the members of any caste or community," he said.
MLA Mevani came down heavily on the BJP government for denying Hardik Patel permission to hold the fast.
"Those who protest for their rights are given the certificate of (having committed) sedition, they are detained, FIRs are registered against them... There is nothing surprising in government imposing section 144 (of the CrPC) to restrict movement of people)," he said.
"They blame us for doing caste politics, but they should understand that we are also raising the issues of ASHA workers (women health workers), farmers, contract employees. But the government is not ready to listen," Mevani said.
Congress MLAs Lalit Vasoya from Dhoraji constituency, Asha Patel from Unjha, Brijesh Merja from Morbi, Lalit Kagathra from Tankara and Kirit Patel from Patan also visited Hardik Patel.
Vasoya, a Patidar, said he and other Congress MLAs would sit on a "symbolic fast" tomorrow.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Hardik Patel had claimed that several national-level leaders, including Kejriwal and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, could come to Gujarat to support him.
"This hunger strike is not a one-day affair. Thousands across the state would sit on a fast and it will continue for days. I have also invited people to come to my house to join me in the fast," he had said.
Earlier this month, Hardik Patel had announced that he would stage his fast at a ground in the Nikol area here. But the government denied permission, saying the spot has been now turned into a parking lot.
Hardik Patel then approached the Gandhinagar collector, seeking Satyagrah Chhavni as an alternative place, but this was also rejected.
Clashes had broken out during the quota agitation led by Hardik Patel on August 25, 2015, leading to deaths of 14 people and large-scale destruction of public property.