Two former Chief Ministers of Gujarat, Suresh Mehta and Shankarsinh Vaghela, and about 20 others were arrested on Sunday morning to prevent them from attending a rally organised by the State government employees. They were demanding the implementation of the sixth pay commission’s recommendations for the central government employees.
However, the Ministers and the others were released in the evening after the rally ended. Both, Mr. Vaghela and Mr. Mehta, while describing the arrests as an attack on their democratic rights, said, the undemocratic act of the police marked the “beginning of the end of the Narendra Modi government in the State.”
The police had earlier denied the employees the permission to hold a rally due to security concern in view of the day being the 17th demolition anniversary of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. At the last minute, it allowed the rally to be held at a different venue and with a dozen odd conditions.
The State Government Employees’ Coordination Committee, which organised the rally, was told that “no outsiders,” including “politicians,” would be allowed to attend the rally. Apart from security checks, the employees were allowed to enter only after their identity cards were checked.
As soon as Mr. Mehta and Mr. Vaghela entered Ahmedabad to attend the rally, the police arrested them. The two Ministers had recently formed an organisation called the “Prabuddha Nagrik Manch” that supported to the employees’ agitation for pay parity.
Their arrests led to some skirmishes between the police and the supporters, including many Congress workers who lay on the road to prevent police vehicles from taking away the arrested Ministers. Some workers of the National Students’ Union of India, the students’ wing of the Congress, stoned buses of the Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Corporation. Several private vehicles were also damaged in the process.
Mr. Vaghela said if leaders were not allowed to pay their respect to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and support the “just cause” of government employees, “only God can save the State.”
Meanwhile, an anonymous advertisement published in several vernacular dailies alleged that government employees were becoming “tools in the hands of the political parties.”
Employees’ Coordination Committee president Vishnu Patel suspected this to be the handiwork of the State government to misguide and divide employees. “But we are united and no attempt by the government will split employees.” Mr. Patel said though they were not seeking the support of political parties, any leader extending support to the cause was welcome. He also said the agitation will continue and be further intensified in the coming days if the government failed to concede to their demands.