WhatsApp messages exhorting large crowds to converge on predetermined locations and go on the rampage fanned the flames of the violent anti-Agnipath agitation in UP’s Ballia, Deoria and Mirzapur, police said on Sunday after 72 more arrests across the state as part of the ongoing crackdown on suspected vandals. A total of 450 people have been arrested for violence and damaging public property since last Thursday.
In Rajasthan, the police clamped Section 144 in Jaipur and Dholpur to prevent further flare-ups. Additional commissioner of police Ajay Pal Lamba warned of strict action against rumour-mongering on social media. This coincided with an association of coaching institutes calling off classes on Monday and Tuesday in solidarity with students protesting against the Agnipath scheme. “We have appalled to all students to protest peacefully, abjure violence and not to damage public property,” it said.

Apart from Bihar, the most number of protests were reported in Rajasthan and UP. At Deoria’s Barhaj police station area, police vehicles were singled out for acts of arson. “Since there was heavy deployment of forces in all sensitive locations, those planning the violence communicated through a WhatsApp group and got a crowd to gather on the bypass in Barhaj. They hurled stones at the police and then headed to a petrol pump for more vandalism,” Barhaj station house officer Jai Shankar Mishra said.
Some protesters allegedly snatched money from the counter and set fire to two vehicles there, SP Sankalp Sharma said. “Fifteen people have been arrested.”
Arrests in Saharanpur included the district NSUI president, an ex-panchayat member of Samajwadi Party and three others affiliated to other parties. None of them was a job aspirant, the police said.

In Mirzapur, additional SP Sanjai Kumar said the district was by and large peaceful on Sunday after multiple incidents of rioting stoked by social media messages the previous day. “We are identifying the admins of the WhatsApp groups that gave call for the protest,” he said.
Ghazipur witnessed a ruckus involving hundreds of youth near the railway station. On being informed about a gathering of protesters on the Varanasi-Ghazipur-Ballia railway line, a police team stopped them at Sheikhpura. The protesters pelted stones before fleeing.
In Bhadohi, the police baton-charged disperse protesters and arrested four of them.
Additional DGP Prashant Kumar said all district officials had been directed to speak to the zila sainik kalyan boards and elected representatives like village heads, MLAs and MPs to make people aware of the facts about the Agnipath scheme. In Chandauli, some protesters torched a private vehicle before the police intervened. Around 35 people were arrested in Aligarh, including nine coaching institute owners accused of inciting youth to take part in the June 17 protest.
In Punjab, where protesters vandalised Ludhiana railway station on Saturday, an FIR was filed against at least 70 people for rioting, attacking a cop and destroying a police vehicle. Police commissioner Kaustubh Sharma said the protesters had planned to set trains ablaze.
Besides arresting six suspects, the police detained 12 others on Sunday in connection with the violence.
Half a dozen youths in MP’s Indore were booked and three of them arrested for allegedly posting messages on social media, criticising the Agnipath scheme and calling on youth to protest against it.

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