Deep Sidhu spent 13 days as fugitive with friends, was active on Facebook
Farmers protesters at Singhu border never allowed actor-activist Deep Sidhu to speak from the stage because of his “association with the ruling party” and his “extremist views”, said Harinder Happy, a member of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha -- a group of 40 farm unions that is spearheading the agitation against the three farm laws.
But, around 8pm on January 25, Sidhu allegedly hijacked the stage and addressed the people. “He delivered a provocative speech. We asked him to leave the spot immediately. Nobody saw him after that,” Happy said.
Protesters at the Singhu border claim that was the last they saw of Sidhu until he was seen again at the Red Fort during the Republic Day’s tractor parade.
Delhi police are now trying to piece together the sequence of events from that evening to the afternoon of January 26, when Sidhu was seen among those who stormed the Red Fort, vandalised the monument and hoisted two flags —one of the farmers union and another a religious flag.
Police are also probing if someone else was also involved with Sidhu in planning the vandalisation at Red Fort. Police have alleged that the violence during the rally and the events at the Unesco World Heritage site, were not spontaneous acts but were planned as part of a conspiracy. At least 394 police officials and 10 farmers were injured when protesters deviated from the pre-approved routes of the tractor rally and clashed with police when they were stopped from entering parts of New Delhi and Central Delhi.
Police officials, who are privy to the details of Sidhu’s interrogation, said on January 26, as soon as his photographs and videos started circulating in the media, the actor quietly fled to Sonipat, about 20 km away from Singhu border. He was with many friends and supporters, but their numbers thinned as the calls for his arrest grew louder. Police suspect that he borrowed vehicles from his friends as some of the vehicles that Sidhu was using, until January 26, were not spotted by any CCTV camera installed at the toll plaza on the GT Karnal Road.
“For the first 24 hours, his phone was on. He was staying at a friend’s place in Sonipat. On January 26, he released his first Facebook Live, claiming innocence and hitting at those who branded him a traitor” said an investigator associated with the case.
At 8pm on January 27, the Delhi police held a press conference reiterating that no person involved in the violence will be spared.
“Within two hours of the media briefing, at around 10pm, Sidhu switched off his cell phone. His last location was Sonipat. Then, he started changing his location,” the first investigating officer added.
After the January 27 press conference, at least 12 teams of the crime branch, special cell, and the local police were conducting raids at multiple locations in Punjab and Haryana to find Sidhu. Police also tapped the phone number of many persons related to Sidhu. A team even visited his wife’s house in Purnea, Bihar.
“He was not in Bihar either. We found that during all these days, Sidhu visited Chandigarh, Bilaspur(Himachal Pradesh), Amritsar, and then Karnal from where he was finally arrested. He has claimed that he stayed at his friend’s house. We are verifying this. He even removed his turban to avoid being identified. The videos of Sidhu at the Red Fort and in the days before the violence show him with a turban,” a second police officer added.
On Monday night, when police arrested Sidhu, he was waiting for a car to flee to Purnea. “He was waiting at the Karnal bypass for a car that was offered by his associate for the journey, when the police team caught him around 10.30pm. He was hiding in Karnal and was dropped at the bypass by another associate on a bike, just 10 minutes before his arrest,” the officer said.
A third police officer, who did not wish to be identified, said on February 3, after Delhi police announced ₹1 lakh reward on Sidhu’s arrest, Sidhu found himself cornered and could not find many friends to shield him while in hiding.
“He could have passed off as one of the farmers among the thousands already on the GT Karnal road with their tractors. But the farmers union had distanced themselves from Sidhu, so this made it more difficult for him to hide. He had to stay away from the protest sites. We have information that he visited some of his friends near Singhu (not the main stage or near farm leaders) on February 1 but he did not stay there for long. We will question him on why he visited the border again,” the third officer added.
But even while in hiding for 13 days, Sidhu was active on his Facebook account. Between, January 26 and February 8(until his arrest), he uploaded five videos and claimed that he was not among the rioters; reiterated that lies were being spread against him; and asked people to stay united. He also wrote posts about how the protest started after the farm laws were passed in September and the “reality of the political and social structure” and alleged that he was “set up by the farm union leaders”.
On Tuesday afternoon, hours after Sidhu’s arrest, special cell deputy commissioner of police Sanjeev Yadav said such posts and videos were uploaded by Sidhu’s friend from the US and that Sidhu was careful to not do it himself to avoid arrest.