Farmers shower flower petals on fellow protesters at Singhu border. (PTI)
Farmers shower flower petals on fellow protesters at Singhu border. (PTI)

Violence at farmers' tractor rally: What went wrong in the police plan?

  • Police officers estimate that the city was overrun by around 200,000-250,000 protesters.
By Prawesh Lama, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 27, 2021 04:54 AM IST

The tractor rally by farmers protesting three farm laws passed in September was to start at 11am on Tuesday. The tractors were to move along a pre-decided route near the three border points where the farmers have been protesting – Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri — spread across the north, eastern, and the western part of the Delhi and return to the border.

None of that happened.

Instead, on Tuesday, hundreds of farmers laid siege to Red Fort; others clashed with police in ITO and other parts of the city; and the administration had to take the unprecedented step of suspending mobile Internet services in at least four parts of the National Capital Region.

By the end of the day, by the time, the farmers started returning to the border, 86 policemen and at least 10 farmers were injured, and one farmer was dead -- after the tractor he was driving overturned when he crashed into a barricade.

So, what went wrong?

“Nobody followed the terms of the agreement. They (the farmers) took advantage of their large numbers and stormed into the city. At Ghazipur, they started driving before the agreed-upon time and broke barricades while it was decided in the meeting that police would escort them. At Singhu, the protesters started a little before 11 and were peaceful initially. They had to turn back at Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar, about 15km from Singhu but refused and insisted on marching. Later they took over both carriageways,” said a senior police officer.

Police officers estimate that the city was overrun by around 200,000-250,000 protesters. The police were outnumbered. They were ready with 150 companies of paramilitary forces — about 20,000 personnel – and around 30,000 from their own force.

“At Ghazipur, the protesters just refused to listen and started clashing with the police right from the first hour. By 10.30am, when protesters removed police barricades and pelted stones, we had to fire tear gas shells,” a second police officer said .

The second officer said that most farmers refused to listen to their leaders. “Within the farmers’ group, we were in touch with 10-12 leaders at each border. They said they could not control their people and expressed helplessness. Even among the protesters, there were multiple groups. At ITO, some of wanted to go to India Gate, some others wanted to go to Red Fort.”

Senior Bharatiya Kisan Union(BKU) leader Naresh Tikait said that some young farmers among the protesters had got excited and started the march on the opposite carriageway. “They are youngsters and got carried away. But many farmers including the leaders stayed here and followed the route decided.”

Dharmender Malik , spokesperson of BKU, however said that they had already asked police to allow them to march to Akshardham but it was rejected. “Many anti social elements and others from political parties also entered our rally. They were the ones who were violent,” he said.

The officer added after groups split and chose to go in different directions, an alert was also sent to all police stations to increase security outside the residences of President, Prime Minister, home minister and L-G. The officer said around 2,000 farmer volunteers who had signed up to help police ensure the protest passed peacefully did not respond to calls for assistance.

The Delhi police on Tuesday released a statement that farmers did not adhere to the terms on which they were allowed to hold the rally. “They vandalized property and attacked police personnel. At many places, some protesters used their tractors to run over the police. We used minimum force. Not a single shot was fired by police. We still appeal to the protesters to maintain peace and return to where they were protesting,” a Delhi police spokesperson said.

Senior officer, Alok Kumar, joint commissioner of Delhi police told a news agency that police would take action against those who assaulted police personnel and damaged property.

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