As violent protests against the Agnipath recruitment scheme continued across the country for the second day on Friday, a youth from Telangana became the first casualty, killed in police firing in Secunderabad.
The protests were most violent in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, where the protesters set ablaze a train, buses and a police outpost, and NDA-ruled Bihar, where the houses of state BJP president Dr Sanjay Jaiswal and Deputy Chief Minister Renu Devi were targeted and Several coaches of at least 14 trains were set on fire.
Protests were also reported from other states including Haryana, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh.
In Telangana, one person died and several others were injured when police opened fire on a group of violent protesters at the railway station in Secunderabad. The youth who died has been identified as Damodar Rakesh, 23, from Warangal.
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“These youths had formed a WhatsApp group in which they planned everything. They started assembling near the railway station last night, and launched the attack this morning. We had about 50 security personnel at the station, but they were no match for the 500-1,000 strong mob who came in through all the seven entrances to the station. They went on a rampage, destroying everything in sight and setting property on fire,” said Additional Director General of Police (Railways, Telangana) Sandeep Shandilya.
He said the mob set ablaze several coaches of three trains, two brake vans and an accident relief train. The mob tried to target the Route Relay Interlocking system, the nerve center of South Central Railway, but security personnel managed to chase them away, he said.
The protesters also set ablaze an engine which had 3,000 liters of diesel in it, he said. “They did not allow the firefighting personnel to douse the fire even after being told about the danger if the diesel caught fire… We tried to delink the burning engine and take it elsewhere but they sat in front of it… We opened fire on the rampaging mob; one person died while 10-15 others were injured,” he said.
SCR General Manager Arun Kumar said they were yet to estimate the damage but officials put it at Rs 30-40 crore. SCR shut down the railway station and canceled 71 trains, leaving thousands of passengers stranded.
In Uttar Pradesh, an empty train was set on fire in Ballia district. “There was information that some students had gathered at the railway station and stadium. Senior officials started a dialogue with them and the students were dispersed from there. While leaving the railway station, they tried to break the windows of an empty train and set on fire a train stationed in an isolated area,” said Ballia Superintendent of Police (SP) Raj Karan Nayyar, adding that “around 100 people” had been held.
Protests were also reported in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency of Varanasi, where two State Roadways buses were vandalised. Police said the situation was under control. “We had information that the protesters would gather at the Army recruitment office here. We took preventive steps, and very few people reached the spot… Some people tried to indulge in rioting… Some people have been identified and they will face action,” said Varanasi Police Commissioner Satish Ganesh.
In Aligarh, a police outpost and a vehicle inside the premises were set ablaze. Protesters blocked a highway, vandalised and torched some buses. Incidents of stone-pelting were reported from Agra and Mathura.
In a statement on Friday afternoon, UP ADG (law and order) Prashant Kumar said: “Some small incidents have happened in some districts. In Ballia, a stationary train’s bogey was set on fire and in Aligarh’s Tappal town a bus’s tire was set on fire… Officials are speaking to the youths and explaining that the new scheme is in their favour. District officials have been directed to establish conversation with the Zilla Sainik Kalyan Board and elected representatives like village heads, MLAs and MPs and make people aware of these things… We have received information that some outfits are inciting the youths.”
In Bihar, over two dozen people, including students and policemen, were injured in day-long protests across at least 15 of 38 districts in the state. The houses of Bihar BJP president Dr Sanjay Jaiswal and Deputy Chief Minister Renu Devi were targeted in Bettiah. Dr Jaiswal, who was inside his house at the time of the attack, was given police protection; Renu Devi was in Patna. BJP MLA Vinay Bihari’s vehicle was also attacked. For the second day, BJP offices in the state were targeted, including in Madhepura, Lambert Sarai, Bagaha (West Champaran) and Saran.
Protesters torched several coaches of 10 trains in Samastipur, Lakhisarai and Danapur (Patna), and one each in Islampur (Nalanda), Kulharia (Ara), Fatuah (Patna) and Supaul. About 75 private vehicles including four school-buses in Aurangabad were also vandalised.
The RJD-led Grand Alliance has called a Bihar bandh on Saturday. “We are trying to identify the protesters to check for involvement of anti-social elements,” said Bihar Additional Director of Police (law and order) Sanjay Singh. Over the last two days, at least 300 people have been held. As the protesters clashed with police in several areas, police fired in the air in Bhagalpur.
In Haryana, amid reports of arson, stone-pelting and protests in several districts, state home minister Anil Vij warned that “those involved will not be spared”. Protests were reported from Gurgaon, Faridabad, Palwal, Narnaund (Hisar), Narnaul, Narwana (Jind) and Rohtak. Mobile internet services have been suspended in Palwal, Ballabgarh and Mahendragarh.
Protesters blocked the Jind-Bathinda railway track for three hours, some youths burnt tires in Rohtak, and over 40 protesters were rounded up in Faridabad’s Ballabgarh for pelting stones at vehicles.
Police said over 1,000 people have been booked for the violence in Palwal on Thursday. “At least 80 have been booked by name while another 950 are yet to be identified. Verification and identification of all the accused from video clippings and CCTV footage is being done. All those identified shall be subjected to legal action,” said a police spokesperson.
In Jammu and Kashmir, traffic on the Pathankot-Jammu and Jammu-Poonch highways was disrupted for a few hours as protesters held demonstrations for the second day.
— Sreenivas Janyala/ Hyderabad, Asad Rehman/ Lucknow, Santosh Singh/ Patna, Varinder Bhatia/ Chandigarh, Arun Sharma/ Jammu with PTI inputs