The Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah’s address at a public meeting in Anand district on Sunday ahead of the Assembly elections in Gujarat was marred by disruptions and protests by Patidar youth.
The BJP called the meeting at Karamsad, the birthplace of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, to flag off the first of its two “Gujarat Gaurav Yatras”, which kickstart the party’s campaign for the polls scheduled to be held later this year.
The protestors were eventually forced out of the venue by BJP workers and the police.
The BJP downplayed the disruption. Its spokesperson Jagdish Bhavsar said: “We don’t know whether they [protesters] were Patidars or stooges of Congress party. We will know about this only after the police conduct a proper investigation into the incident.”
Harshad Patel, who heads the BJP’s media cell in Gujarat, said, “The protestors were very small in number and could not disturb the meeting.”
Patidar youth shouted “General Dyer go back” and “BJP down, down”. This is not the first time that Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, the British army officer responsible for the 1919 Jalianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar, has been invoked by the Patidars to protest against the BJP president.
Patidars upset with BJP
Patidars or Patels, the BJP’s traditional vote base in this western state, have been seething with anger against the ruling party ever since the police used force to crack down on their agitation for reservations in government jobs and public higher educational institutions two years ago.
This is the second time in about a year that Patidar protestors have disrupted a meeting addressed by Shah, and compared him to General Dyer, the British Army officer responsible for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar.
Last September, Shah had to cut short his speech at a meeting in Surat after hundreds of angry Patidars started throwing chairs in the direction of the dais, forcing the police to use batons and tear gas to control the mob.
The Karamsad event was also marred by a delay in Shah flagging off the BJP’s first yatra, which is led by Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel. It was scheduled for 9 am on Sunday but was only flagged off around noon.
A local BJP leader, who did not want to be identified, said that the delay was due to the low turnout of people at the scheduled time. He said that Shah’s secretary kept calling up the event’s organisers to ask about the size of the crowd gathered at the venue. “Only when it swelled to a comfortable level did Amit Shah come to the venue,” he said. “This delayed the yatra by almost two hours.”
Harshad Patel admitted that the yatra started after 12 pm, but added that this was not unusual for an event of this kind.
Shah will launch the second Gujarat Gaurav Yatra on October 2 from Porbandar, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. It will be led by state BJP president Jitubhai Vaghani.
Both yatras will take two separate routes across Gujarat and will culminate in a rally addressed by Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 15.
Corrections and clarifications: After the publication of this article, Mr Harshad Patel has written to us to say that programme-start time and flagging-off-the-yatra time are not the same and that “after stage programme and speeches and earlier tribute to Sardar Patel by Shri Amitbhai Shah”, the flag-off time was as per schedule.
We stand by our story. The schedule released by the BJP itself, appended below, is self-explanatory, as it shows that by 12 noon, the yatra should have reached its third stop.