Violence and arson marked the fourth consecutive day of protests against Agnipath on Saturday when a state-wide bandh was also called by Army aspirants to press the demand for rollback of the new system of recruitment in the armed forces. Police acted tough, arresting altogether 250 people across the state during the day and lodging 25 FIRs, according to a statement issued by the force here.
The statement also put the total number of arrests since Thursday at 718 and said more people would be rounded up after they are identified in a thorough examination of CCTV footage and videography done at various places. Arsonists struck Taregana railway station in Masaurhi sub-division of Patna district where they also set fire to a four-wheeler used by the police. They also hurled stones at the personnel and exchanged gunshots with them.
A release issued by the district administration said action is likely against a couple of coaching institutes in Masaurhi for their suspected involvement in instigating the mob. Similar reports have been received about many coaching institutes based in the city of Patna, Danapur and Paliganj, all of which are likely to face action after investigation, the release added.
An ambulance was attacked by a mob in Danapur and the driver alleged that the patient and attendants inside were also thrashed. In the capital city, demonstrations were staged at a number of places and at least three prominent politicians got detained by police.
Jamui MP Chirag Paswan was rounded up near the Hartali Chowk after he squatted on the road against being stopped from staging a march to the Raj Bhavan, wrapping a black scarf around his face to express solidarity with the agitators. After being detained at a police station, Paswan was let off and allowed to visit the Raj Bhavan leading a small delegation, after which he talked to reporters. “We have sought to underscore that the armed forces cannot be treated as a laboratory for reducing pension expenses,” said Paswan, referring to the most contentious provision of the new scheme. He demanded immediate withdrawal of Agnipath and formulation of a new policy in consultation with all political parties.
Paswan, who has been a trenchant critic of chief minister Nitish Kumar, also said the JD(U) had a point when, despite being a partner of the BJP, it was critical of the manner in which such a big change was brought in. A few kilometres away, CPI(ML) MLA and AISA national general secretary Sandeep Saurav was rounded up after he delivered a rousing speech at the Kargil Chowk, situated close to Patna University.
“We must ensure two things. First, this movement must not be allowed to degenerate into wanton acts of violence. Second, we must sustain the tempo and not allow laxity to set in. These two characteristics marked the farmers’ protests and the government was compelled to repeal the contentious laws despite initial grandstanding,” Saurav said.
Controversial former MP Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav was taken into custody at Dak Bungalow crossing where workers of his Jan Adhikar Party had blocked road traffic and, despite his pleas for a peaceful demonstration, a few hurled stones at nearby shopping establishments.
“My suggestion to all is to abjure violence and lock all BJP leaders inside their homes. This will quickly bring the government at the Centre on its knees,” the maverick leader, once notorious for his strong-arm tactics, said.
Stray incidents were also reported from districts like Jehanabad, where a police party was attacked, and Gaya where a train coach was set on fire. No passenger on board the train was injured and the affected compartment was quickly decoupled, said the East Central Railway zone.
According to ECR chief PRO Virendra Kumar, 189 trains were cancelled during the day while six were short terminated. “As a precautionary measure, plying of trains originating in other zones will remain suspended till 2000 hours”, he said.
The restrictions will be re-imposed between 4 am and 8 pm on Sunday to ensure safety and security of passengers and railway property, the CPRO added.