Farm protests turn anarchic | HT Editorial
On Republic Day, even as India displayed its cultural diversity and military might on Rajpath, farm groups — which had been permitted to hold a tractor rally after the official ceremony concluded, on specific routes, peacefully — violated each of their promises and unleashed anarchy on the streets of Delhi. Protesters stormed into the Capital earlier than stipulated; they deviated from agreed routes; they displayed their swords and sticks and used tractors to ram through barricades; they engaged in violence and vandalism and destroyed public property; they attacked the police as authorities sought to impose order; and they stormed into the Red Fort and hoisted the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag, although not at the spot where the national flag always flies.
This newspaper has consistently warned against maximalism shown by farm groups — and their unwillingness to reciprocate even as the government has stepped back, substantially, on the farm laws. But this maximalist approach descended into unacceptable behaviour on Tuesday. And this deserves harsh condemnation from all quarters. Instead of celebrating what democracy offered them — a chance to register their protest in the Capital within reasonable boundaries — farm groups mocked every democratic tenet by flouting the understanding with authorities and undermining the rule of law.
Farm unions, which now claim they had no control over the miscreants, can’t run away from their responsibility. They have displayed poor political leadership of a mass movement — and have been led by the crowd, instead of educating and moderating, the crowd. And if they didn’t have control, they should not have organised Tuesday’s protests in the first place. The episode is also a lesson for those believe that street protests are an effective antidote to policies with which they disagree. Protest is a fundamental right, but radical, uncompromising politics from the streets, based on appropriating law-making powers, sets off the wrong precedent for the future and can turn volatile. The Delhi Police must also introspect about intelligence failures and absence of operational preparation that led to the situation on Tuesday and hold culprits accountable. But the ultimate responsibility lies with the farm protesters. With violence, their protests have now lost legitimacy. They must express genuine remorse for Tuesday’s violence, cooperate with the investigation, accept the government’s offer of an 18-month suspension of laws, if it is still available, and call off the protest.