BAHADURGARH, India/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India deployed thousands of troops in a northern state on Sunday to quell protests that have severely hit water supplies to Delhi, a metropolis of more than 20 million, forced factories to close and killed 10 people.
Rioting and looting in Haryana by the Jats, a rural caste, is symptomatic of increasingly fierce competition for government jobs and educational openings in India, whose growing population is set to overtake China’s within a decade.
The latest unrest threatens to undermine Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of better days to come for Indians who elected him in 2014 with the largest majority in three decades.
As before, the 65-year-old leader ignored the protests - instead giving a speech on rural and urban development in the eastern state of Chattisgarh, unveiling a statue to a late Indian guru and praising a 104-year-old woman for backing his campaign for a Clean India.
The federal government deployed 4,000 troops and 5,000 paramilitaries in a massive show of force, and ordered an end to the protests by Sunday night. Home Minister Rajnath Singh met Jat leaders and offered to meet their demands.
In Bahadurgarh, on the road west from Delhi, around 2,000 protesters occupied a highway intersection and stopped truck traffic. Shops in the town were closed.
“We are here to die,” said Rajendra Ahlavat, a 59-year-old farmer and protest leader. “We will keep going until the government bows to our pressure. There is no way we will take back our demands.”
TV reports from Jhajjar, further west, showed troops fanning out on the streets against a backdrop of burning and damaged buildings - evidence of the fury of Jats who make up a quarter of Haryana’s population and number more than 80 million in all.
Haryana’s police chief said the death toll had risen to 10 and 150 more had been injured. “We are trying to identify the conspirators and take action,” Director General of Police Yash Pal Singal told a televised news conference.
An official from Singh’s nationalist party - which also rules Haryana - said after talks at his residence that it would bring a bill in the state assembly to grant “reservation”, or a guaranteed quota of government jobs, to Jats.
Protesters have attacked the homes of regional ministers, torched railway stations and staged sit-ins on tracks, blocking hundreds of trains. They sabotaged pumping equipment at a water treatment plant that provides most of Delhi’s water.
“No water available now. Still no hope to get it,” Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said in a tweet on Sunday.
The Delhi government ordered schools to shut on Monday and rationed water supply to residents to ensure that hospitals and emergency services have enough.
Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, India’s biggest carmaker by sales, suspended operations at its plants in the state after the protests disrupted the supply of some components.
Modi wants to attract foreign investment to back his ‘Make in India’ drive to create 100 million manufacturing jobs by 2022. At the current rate India may only create 8 million jobs in that period, by one independent estimate.
Additional reporting Suvashree Choudhury in Mumbai; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Digby Lidstone