NEW DELHI: India’s Gujarat province banned the internet on Saturday in a bid to stall a major rally against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handpicked government in his home state.

Police in Surat city arrested a 22-year old firebrand leader, Hardik Patel, who has been leading an agitation seeking reservations for the Patel community in Gujarat.

He has been arrested for violating prohibitory orders as he tried to take out a protest march from the city. The police also detained fifty of his supporters.

Soon after his detention, internet services were suspended across the state for 24 hours.

The young leader was denied permission for his ‘Ekta Yatra’ (unity march) by the administration on Friday, but he reportedly remained adamant saying he would go ahead with the march “at any cost”.

After last-minute venue change, Mr Patel arrived at the Mangadh chowk in Surat city with 50 of his supporters and after garlanding a statue of the community’s icon Sardar Patel, started marching in defiance of the orders.

A posse of policemen whisked him away as he said: “This is an attempt to muzzle our peaceful agitation by the state government. We will not give up and will continue our agitation peacefully.”

The rich and powerful community has threatened to stage protests during Mr Modi’s tour of the United States later this month.

In the past two weeks, Mr Patel had announced to take out the “reverse Dandi March,” retracing a demonstration-walk led by Mahatma Gandhi against the colonial British government in 1930. But he cancelled the plan after the district administration denied permission.

Mr Patel’s Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti or PAAS has been demanding reservation for the Patel community, also known as Patidars. The Patels, who make up 14 per cent of Gujarat’s population, were originally land-owning farmers who branched out into trades like diamond polishing.

But they say their youth is now being excluded from university education and government jobs, which are reserved for castes seen as far more backward and in need of integration into the mainstream.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2015

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