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Anti-Agnipath agitation spreads

Taregna railway station at Masaudhi in Patna was set on fire during the anti-Agnipath Bihar Bandh  on June 18, 2022.

Taregna railway station at Masaudhi in Patna was set on fire during the anti-Agnipath Bihar Bandh on June 18, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

The protests agains the Agnipath recruitment scheme to the armed forces continued for the fourth consecutive day in many parts of the country despite announcements of reservations for Agniveers in various government jobs. The Opposition parties have also started parallel agitations against the scheme, though they distanced themselves from the violence witnessed during the protests.

Tension mounted in Warangal town in Telangana during the funeral procession of Rakesh who was killed in Friday’s police firing on a rampaging mob at Secunderabad railway station. The crowd in the procession barged into a BSNL office on the way and burnt a board. The crowd also tried to take the body towards Warangal railway station but police resorted to a baton charge to prevent the same.

In Bihar, things remained out of control as aspirants set a railway station and ambulances on fire and clashed with police personnel at several places. The Railways suspended movement of many trains till 8 p.m. on Saturday and said property worth ₹200 crore were damaged by protesting aspirants. In Patna, detained students leaders to disperse the protesters. When asked by media persons why the State police couldn’t tackle the protest on time, Bihar Director General of Police S.K. Singhal replied, “that is your perception” and moved ahead in his official car.

Meanwhile, a Railway official Prabhat Kumar said, “Incidents of vandalism at railway premises have led to loss of over ₹200 crore in the State. As many as 50 coaches and five engines of trains have been burnt and are out of service. Platforms, computers and various technical parts too were damaged.” The Railways on Saturday suspended movement of trains in the State till 8 p.m. to avoid any further damage. “Over 325 persons have been arrested and about 60 FIRs have been lodged for indulging in violent incidents at different places,” said a senior police official of Bihar.

The protesting aspirants set Taregna railway station, about 30 kms away from Patna, on fire and vandalised police posts and some vehicles parked there. Some ambulances too were damaged at Arwal in Patna district. The protesters continued vandalism in Masaurhi, Jehanabad, Fatuha, Munger and other places.

Editorial | Playing with fire: The Hindu Editorial on Agnipath

Some students organisations like the All India Students Association (AISA), Rojgar Sangharsh Sanyukt Morcha, Sena Bharti Jawan Morcha and others supported by Left parties had called for Bihar bandh on Saturday against the Central government’s short-term contractual services in the defence forces. “We got wide support from people for our bandh call. A large number of people had come out to the street despite Internet suspension, Section 144 of Cr PC imposition and heavy deployment of security forces. It was a successful shutdown,” said Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) State secretary Kumar.

Seventeen trains originating from different stations of Eastern Railways were cancelled. While 15 trains that were scheduled on Saturday were cancelled, two Raxaul summer specials and the Kolkata-Jhanshi Pratham Swatantrata Sangram Express scheduled on Sunday were cancelled.

Among the trains cancelled on Saturday were the Raxaul Mithila Express, the Gaya Express Kathgodam Bagh Express starting from Howrah Station, the Malda Town - Delhi Farakka Express starting from Malda and the Sealdah Ballia Express starting from Sealdah station. The route of some trains was also changed. Sealdah - Saharsa Hatebazare Express will be short-terminated at Malda Town and Saharsa Sealdah Hatebazare Express will be short-originated from Malda Town station, a press statement by Eastern Railway said. This was the second consecutive day that the train services were severely disrupted.

Hundreds of passengers who had arrived at different stations including at Howrah were seen waiting at the platforms. Some passengers also tried to take buses to reach their destination.

While there was no violence in Kolkata on Saturday, there were protests in the city and its suburbs. Supporters of the All India Democratic Students Organisation, the student wing of SUCI (Communist), held protests at Hazra crossing in the city, only 100m from the residence of the Chief Minister. The protesters were picked up by the police. A group also tried to block Railway services by protesting on the tracks near Barrackpore Railway station.

Railway services along the Sealdah-Barrackpore route in North 24 Parganas district was disrupted for around an hour because of the protests. The protests were stopped at the intervention of the police. A large police contingent was deployed in front of the state headquarters of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Congress party in Punjab and Haryana on Saturday stepped up protests and the Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly, Partap Singh Bajwa, asked the Punjab government to bring forth a resolution against the Agnipath scheme, during the upcoming session of the Punjab State Assembly. He also demanded the Punjab government take an all-party delegation to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue.

Mr. Bajwa said the Punjab government must take these steps immediately, if Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann is indeed interested in protecting the interests of the youth of Punjab. “We must stand united behind the future generations of Punjabis and protect their interests immediately,” he said.

In Punjab, a group of protesters damaged window panes at the Ludhiana railway station, while in Jalandhar, protesters staged a march. In Haryana, some protesters set a vehicle on fire outside Mahendergarh railway station. Demonstrations were also held in Sonipat and protesters blocked the Rohtak-Panipat highway. In Kaithal, Fatehabad and Jind, protest marches were held.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Congress leaders submitted a memorandum to the representative of the Haryana Governor against the Agnipath scheme. A meeting of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP), chaired by former Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda, was held.

Mr. Hooda said the Agnipath scheme is neither in the interest of the country nor in the interest of the youth. “Contract recruitment is playing with the future of the youth and the security of the country. Before doing military reform, it is very important to consult with all the sections affected by it,” he said. He said that the memorandum also maintained that the Enforcement Directorate is acting against Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi at the behest of the government due to political vendetta and the Congress party stands strongly against such vendetta.

Protests were held in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode too against the scheme under the banner of various students and youth organisations.

(With inputs from Patna, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Hyderabad)


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Printable version | Jun 19, 2022 1:35:58 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/anti-agnipath-agitation-spreads/article65540607.ece