Ahmedabad: Patidar leader Hardik Patel began an indefinite fast at his sprawling farmhouse here on Saturday to press for quota for the community after the Gujarat government refused permission for various protest venues he had sought.
The Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader began the fast at 3 pm in the presence of his supporters and several Congress MLAs after a pooja at his farmhouse, which has been turned into a veritable fortress with the deployment of a huge posse of police personnel, who are frisking everyone entering the premises.
Congress MLAs Lalit Vasoya from Dhoraji constituency, Asha Patel from Unjha, Brijesh Merja from Morbi, Lalit Kagathra from Tankara and Kirit Patel from Patan were present at Hardik Patel's farmhouse.
Vasoya, a Patidar, said he, along with other Congress MLAs, would sit on a symbolic fast from tomorrow.
While Hardik Patel alleged that the BJP government in the state had denied permission as it was trying to thwart his agitation, the police said it was done keeping in mind the law-and-order situation since such protests had led to violence and arson in the past.
"Today is the third anniversary of the Patidar agitation. Two months ago, we had sought permission to stage protest in the form of an indefinite fast. But we were not granted permission and therefore, we decided to hold it at my residence," Hardik Patel told reporters here.
He alleged that the police had detained 16,000 of his supporters and set up barricades and blockades on the highways leading to Ahmedabad to stall others from joining his fast.
However, Inspector General of Police (Intelligence) R B Bhrambhatt put the number of people detained at 158.
"As you all know, widespread violence by anti-social elements was reported on August 25, 2015 after the PAAS was given permission to take out a rally. Similarly, after a symbolic dharna last week, BRTS buses were burnt and damaged in Surat," he said.
"We have denied permission after due diligence," the IG added.
"The message going around on the social media, propagated by some PAAS leaders, that we have detained 16,000 people is baseless. We have detained only 158 people as a precautionary measure," he said.
The state government, meanwhile, alleged that Patel's protest was sponsored by the Congress.
"The protest is being held at the behest of the Congress as the 2019 (Lok Sabha) elections are coming. But we are sure that the six crore people of the state will not be swayed by any such agitation staged by the members of any caste or community," Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, the PAAS leader had claimed that several national-level leaders, including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, might come to Gujarat to support him.
"This hunger strike is not a one-day affair. Thousands across the state would sit on fast and it will continue for days. I have also invited people to come to my house to join me in the fast," Hardik Patel had said.
Earlier this month, he had announced that he would sit on an indefinite hunger strike from August 25 at a ground in the Nikol area here, demanding reservation in education and government jobs for Patidars and loan waiver for farmers.
After being denied permission for the Nikol venue since it was a parking lot now, Hardik Patel had approached the Gandhinagar collector, seeking Satyagrah Chhavni as an alternate spot for the fast. This too was rejected by the authorities.
Clashes had broken out during the quota agitation led by Hardik Patel on August 25, 2015, leading to the death of 14 people and large-scale destruction of public property.