Highways, buses and parked vehicles were the other soft targets in the spree of destruction wrought by protesters in Bihar and parts of UP, Punjab and Rajasthan. The southern states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu reported emerging pockets of unrest, but were mostly spared the rioting and arson that have characterised protests in the north and east.
9 GRP personnel injured in Bihar station rampage as agitation spreads
The day’s worst violence took place at Masaurhi near Patna, with bullets flying along with stones and teargas shells amid a statewide bandh called by various organisations against the Agnipath scheme to recruit youth to the armed forces.
“The mob first surrounded the GRP police post at Taregna station and held some personnel hostage. They set ablaze two cars, including a police car parked nearby, and six two-wheelers. The miscreants also torched the stationmaster’s cabin, damaged the ticket counter, the traffic control room and CCTVs across the platforms. The cash till at the ticket counter was looted too,” an officer said.
The GRP team fired a few rounds in the air and used tear gas shells to disperse the mob, he said. SSP Manavjit Singh Dhillon and DM Chandrashekhar Singh reached the station with reinforcements from Patna, around 30km away, and arrested 63 people.
Singh alleged that two coaching institutes for job interviews at Masaurhi incited the protesters. “Strict action is being initiated against those who run these centres.”
The Patna-Gaya section of East Central Railway’s Danapur division was the epicentre of the mob violence. At Tehta, they threw a log of wood and fireballs on the rail tracks. Kuchman station was ransacked, as were Raghunathpur and Tunniganj. Sheikhpura, Guraru near Gaya and Zamania railway stations also reported stone-pelting and damage to railway equipment.
In UP, around 190 people were arrested, over 100 detained and more than two dozen FIRs lodged for destroying public property during anti-Agnipath protests in Jaunpur, Chandauli, Mirzapur, Aligarh and Mathura.
Protesters torched a state-owned bus on the Jaunpur-Prayagraj highway in Badlapur, two motorbikes in Jaunpur and damaged two other buses in Mirzapur. A railway station and a crossing were vandalised in Chandauli. A car belonging to a BJP functionary was damaged at Sikrara.
A total of 360 people have been arrested since June 17 and 29 FIRs registered. Additional DGP Prashant Kumar said all district police chiefs had been asked to form small teams and intensify patrolling near highways, railway stations and bus stops.
Varanasi divisional commissioner Deepak Agarwal said the vandals were being identified. They could be charged under the UP Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act, he said.
In Punjab, masked protesters stormed Ludhiana railway station and vandalised the property. They also smashed the windows of a police patrol car. Joint commissioner of police Ravcharan Brar said the group had been “instigated” to commit vandalism. Two FIRs were filed, one by Ludhiana police and another by GRP, and 8-10 suspects rounded up.
“I was seated on bench when around 30 protesters with sticks landed on the platform and started smashing everything in sight,” said Inderjit Singh, a train passenger who witnessed the vandalism.
Jalandhar saw protesters jam the national highway near PAP Chowk from 11.30am to 4pm, stalling all traffic heading to or coming from Amritsar, Pathankot, Jammu, Ludhiana and Delhi. They lifted the blockede only after speaking to Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann. Shaheed Bhagat Singh Naujawan Sabha state general secretary Dharminder Singh claimed that thousands of Army aspirants in Punjab were waiting for the written test after having cleared the ground tests. He said the new scheme had jeopardised their careers.
The Jaipur-Delhi highway (NH-48) was the target of protesters at Behror in Rajasthan’s Alwar on Saturday. A mob wrecked a state roadways bus after cops thwarted their plans to torch it. Driver Mahesh Kumar said nearly 30 youths had stormed the bus and tried to set it ablaze.
In Jodhpur, police averted a fresh protest and detained five students who had assembled at Paota in response to a campaign on social media. They were let off with a warning. Jaipur saw some protesters target flower pots at a railway station on Benar Road.
K’taka, Kerala, TN see emerging pockets of unrest
A protest in Karnataka’s Dharwad led the police to baton-charge hundreds of youths who had converged near Kala Bhavan, raising anti-BJP slogans. Some protesters hurled stones at a passing bus. Over a dozen youths were taken into preventive custody and released later.
Protests also took place at Gokak and parts of the neighbouring Belagavi district. In Kalaburagi, leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, said the Congress would hold an agitation at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi from Sunday.
Kerala witnessed its first day of agitation as 700 Army aspirants took out a march to Raj Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram, demanding that the six-time postponed Army recruitment exam be held at the earliest. All the young men who participated in the march had passed the physical and medical examinations for Army recruitment held last year. They were united through a social media collective “Justice For Army Students”.
In Tamil Nadu, Triplicane police arrested 500 people for holding a protest against the Agnipath scheme at Island Ground. Warangal in Telangana briefly simmered on Saturday during the funeral procession of Army aspirant D Rakesh, who died in police firing during protests at Secunderabad railway station. As mourners jostled for space along the route, a section of the crowd turned violent and torched signboards, damaged a BSNL office and broke the shutters of a warehouse corporation office. A mob also tried to divert the procession towards Warangal railway station, but swift police action prevented further trouble.