Surat | Hardik Patel, the 22-year-old leader of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), demanding inclusion of the upper caste Patel community in the list of OBCs, kept the administration of Navsari and Surat districts on the tenterhooks throughout last night as he frequently changed the starting point of the Ekta Yatra till the very last minute.
The PAAS had announced to begin today the 350-km-long Ekta Yatra to Sabarmati Ashram from the historic Dandi village of Salt Satyagraha fame from where Mahatma Gandhi had broken the British Salt Act in 1930.
Though the yatra was to start today, the PAAS submitted its application seeking permission only late in the evening yesterday to the Navsari district collector Remya Mohan.
The collector denied permission to take out the yatra from Dandi in view of the threat from OBC-majority 90 coastal villages to hold counter rallies if PAAS takes out the yatra. ‘We are determined to take out the yatra from Dandi even if administration does not give us permission. We will court arrest if the situation so demands,’ Hardik announced.
Arriving in Surat late last night, Hardik then directed his supporters to collect at 0500 hrs today at Kamrej Crossing on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai National Highway, 35 km from Dandi and 25 km from Bardoli. The district administration smelled trouble in such a move as Chief Minister Anandiben Patel was scheduled to attend a public function near Bardoli today.
His plan was changed again in the wee hours when Hardik told his supporters that the yatra would now start from Surat’s Varachha locality at 0900 hrs. He also told the women supporters of the pro-quota movement to turn up in large numbers and be on the forefront of the yatra as a tactical move to prevent the use of force by the police.
All the while, the police and para military forces numbering over 4,000 jawans and 400 officers were deployed at strategic locations across Surat and Navsari districts in all readiness to meet any exigency.
The suspense and confusion over the starting point of the rally, however, ended at 0900 hrs when Hardik accompanied by over 50 supporters appeared near the Sardar Patel statue at Varacha. The police allowed Hardik to garland the statue but took him and his supporters under custody before they could start the yatra. All the front row leaders of PAAS were taken to the city police headquarters where they have kept under preventive detention.
Hardik conveyed his last-minute changes in decisions through the Gujarati TV channels and the social media such as Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook and SMS.
Having seen PAAS leadership making effective use of Mobile Internet services to spread messages among the pro-quota supporters, the police imposed a blanket ban on all Mobile Internet services and social media for the next 36 hours throughout the state. Earlier, the police had imposed this ban only for Surat and Ahmedabad city users.
However before the ban came into force at 1200 hrs, a section of PAAS’ second line of leadership managed to give a call for ‘rasta roko’ throughout the state. The call received sporadic response from a few places along the National Highway between Vadodara and Surat, Rajkot and Morbi and in the coastal Amreli district.
The state road transport service cancelled buses on several routes to avoid possible attacks from pro-quota agitators.