In contrast to Rahul Gandhi's 18 hours of dharna and a subsequent midnight high drama of his arrest and release by the UP police, residents of Greater Noida's Bhatta village, the epicentre of agitations, woke up to a calm Thursday morning.
A heavy police bandobast has been made as the administration chose to impose section 144 of the criminal procedure code (CrPC) once again in the area. Though people remained indoors in early hours, and a battery of TV reporters stayed put, villagers said they would hold a mahapanchyat around noon at the very site, where agitations have been taking place since January 17, this year. This may result in a fresh confrontation with the police as prohibitory orders are once again in force, locals have feared.
Another section of villagers said they were in touch with Rahul's close men, if not necessarily with him, and will device fresh strategies in consultation with the Congress general secretary. "We're awaiting instructions from him… we will do as he says," said Satbir Rana, a farmer. "We just heard the congress has called for a chakka jaam in UP; we will support the move," he said.
Rahul was the first politician to have reached Bhatta after a cycle of violence, leaving two policemen and two farmers dead, reported over the weekend. The farmer movement had by and large been without a visibly constructive leadership.
Choudhary Manveer Singh Tevatia, who the police have branded a criminal with more than 20 cases pending against him, has been in the hiding since Saturday. Even the villagers now feel the terror tactics resorted to by him were not the way forward.
"He believed in violence. Rahul has showed us a lot can be done while being patient and taking recourse to democratic ways of protest," said Shikhar, a local. "All other leaders, who sought to come to Bhatta, informed the police and media in advance. They just wanted publicity. They never actually wanted to come here and share our pain," he added.
Meerut inspector general of police Rajnikant Mishra said, "We will soon explain to the media the circumstances under which Rahul Gandhi was arrested and released and also tell about the man arrested from quite close to the Congress general secretary with a pistol in hand."
Earlier, Rahul Gandhi, who slipped in unnoticed in pre-dawn hours to support the farmers' cause, was arrested late on Wednesday night for violating prohibitory orders. After a three-hour midnight drama, Rahul was finally escorted back to Delhi by the UP police through the DND Flyway. He was arrested under section 151 of the CrPC at around 11.00pm and was taken to the Kasna police station in Greater Noida.
Contrary to reports that the Congress general secretary was released on personal bond, leaders accompanying Rahul said he did not sign any bail bond. "The police released us on their own responsibility," Congress leader Digvijay Singh said. "The cops had no papers. They kept talking to their bosses on the phone," said Rajeev Satav, a youth Congress leader.
Rahul looked angry on being taken into custody. "Why have I been arrested? Show me the papers," he demanded. While being taken into custody, he said, "I will keep fighting for you all (the farmers)." Initially the police strategy was to take Rahul to Delhi-UP border and release him there but things changed swiftly. As news of Rahul's arrest spread, the entire Congress leadership from UP rushed to be by his side.
The arrest drama began at 9.30pm when Rahul was taking rest at the house of a villager, Vedpal. Meerut IG Rajnikant Mishra reached there and said the lives of leaders were under threat if they stayed like that.
After 90 minutes of deliberations, it was said prohibitory orders were once again in force and Rahul was being taken into custody for violating the same. Rahul was taken to Kasna police station at 11.30 pm.
At 1.40am, he emerged out. At 2.00am, his cavalcade left Kasna. The local administration heaved a sigh of relief when the cavalcade crossed IP Park in Delhi at 2.15am.