The ultimate blame has to lie with the farmers, and their leaders, who are now saying how certain unions did not agree with the plans for the tractor rally decided mutually with Delhi Police and took matters into their own hands.(AP Photo)
The ultimate blame has to lie with the farmers, and their leaders, who are now saying how certain unions did not agree with the plans for the tractor rally decided mutually with Delhi Police and took matters into their own hands.(AP Photo)

Farmers' tractor rally violence: Dark day for the Republic

A deadly charge of tractors at ITO, clashes with police at Red Fort: Rampage in the Capital as farm rally descends into unprecedented chaos, disorder and violence
By HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 27, 2021 04:39 AM IST

This is how it ends, not in order, but chaos, not peacefully, but violently; and not as a concerted display of farmer power, but a descent into chaos best exemplified by images of tractors being driven at high speed, in circles, at ITO in the centre of the national capital, threatening to run over anyone in the way.

Police and paramilitary personnel fire tear gas shells and baton charge during chaos created in the tractor rally at NH 24 Akshardham Ring road in New Delhi. ( ANI Photo)
Police and paramilitary personnel fire tear gas shells and baton charge during chaos created in the tractor rally at NH 24 Akshardham Ring road in New Delhi. ( ANI Photo)


This was not how it was supposed to be. The 62-day-long farm protest, seen by many as a fight of the small man against the State, was expected to reach a climax of sorts with a tractor rally through three designated routes in Delhi. Farm unions that hammered out a compromise with Delhi Police that made this possible, promised a display of pageantry that would rival the morning’s Republic Day parade.


This was how it actually was: one of the groups from Ghazipur deviated from their agreed-upon route, and reached ITO, where they ran riot; another, from Singhu border, deliberately took a turn they were not meant to, and stormed the Red Fort, where one of the protesters climbed the first available flag post (it was empty and not the one where the national flag always flies) and hoisted the Nishan Sahib, the flag of the Sikhs, and subsequently engaged in a violent clash with policemen who were trying to disperse them.

Police personnel lathi charge on protesting farmers during a tractor rally on 72nd Republic Day at Akshardham Ring Road in New Delhi. (ANI Photo)
Police personnel lathi charge on protesting farmers during a tractor rally on 72nd Republic Day at Akshardham Ring Road in New Delhi. (ANI Photo)


This was how it actually was: one of the groups from Ghazipur deviated from their agreed-upon route, and reached ITO, where they ran riot; another, from Singhu border, deliberately took a turn they were not meant to, and stormed the Red Fort, where one of the protesters climbed the first available flag post (it was empty and not the one where the national flag always flies) and hoisted the Nishan Sahib, the flag of the Sikhs, and subsequently engaged in a violent clash with policemen who were trying to disperse them.


As much as the Union government can be blamed for letting things come to such a pass, as much as Delhi Police can be faulted for intelligence failure for not anticipating the events of the day, the ultimate blame has to lie with the farmers, and their leaders, who are now saying how certain unions did not agree with the plans for the tractor rally decided mutually with Delhi Police and took matters into their own hands.


Darshan Pal, one of the leaders of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body coordinating the protests, condemned the violence, and tried to dissociate himself from it. “Undesirable and unacceptable events have taken place today. We dissociate ourselves from those indulging in such acts,” he said. But it won’t be easy to blame the rampage on fringe elements or others embedded among the protesters as part of a conspiracy (although theories to this effect are already doing the rounds). This was simply a protest that got horribly out of hand; a march where the leaders were either absent or not able to control the crowd.

Farmers attempt to break police barricade as they try to march towards Delhi near Nangloi during the Kisan Gantantra Parade in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)
Farmers attempt to break police barricade as they try to march towards Delhi near Nangloi during the Kisan Gantantra Parade in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)


The protesters may have genuine concerns about the farm laws, but images of tractors being used to ram through buses and barricades, armed men with swords on horses trying to run down policemen, and the police rushing containers, buses and barriers to block key roads in central Delhi meant that the immediate concern was not the laws but law and order.

A protesting farmer died after his tractor overturned at ITO during the rally on Tuesday, police said. A video showed the tractor ramming into a police barricade.

The police fired tear gas shells and resorted to baton charges at several poiseveral points where clashes broke out. Delhi Police said 83 personnel were injured after being attacked by agitating farmers. “Protesters turned violent at some places. Many police personnel were injured and public property also damaged. I appeal to protesters to return through the designated routes and maintain peace,” said Delhi Police spokesperson Eish Singhal.


Some groups of farmers began returning to their respective sit-in sites in the evening after hours of clashes, but thousands could still be seen in several areas including ITO, Nangloi and Mukarba Chowk. Visuals also showed people gathered at the Red Fort. Mobile internet services were suspended in three Haryana districts of Sonipat, Jhajjar and Palwal for 24 hours ending 5pm Wednesday, the state government said on Tuesday evening, as violent protests rocked Delhi. Mobile internet was restricted by the police in some parts of the national capital and several Metro stations were also shut down temporarily through the day.

Several questions remain.


Will the farmers continue their protest?

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha called off the “Kisan Republic Day Parade” in the evening and appealed to all participants to return to their respective protest sites. The organisation announced that the movement will “continue peacefully” and further steps will be discussed and decided soon.

Will the government continue to hold out its offer of deferring the laws by 18 months while talks continue?

Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Monday said that farmers should accept the government’s proposal to suspend the laws. Tomar did not speak about the government’s next move on Tuesday evening.

Will Delhi Police and the home ministry act against the farm groups?

Delhi Police said that legal action will be taken against those who assaulted police personnel during the farmers’ rally. Union home minister Amit Shah held a review meeting with senior officials, including home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Delhi Police commissioner SN Shrivastava and Intelligence Bureau director Arvind Kumar, to assess the law and order situation. The Union home ministry will deploy additional paramilitary forces in the national capital after the clashes, people aware of the developments said.

And will the Supreme Court, which has sidestepped the issue thus far, finally deal itself a hand to resolve the crisis?

India’s 72nd Republic Day, it was expected, would be a celebration of the soldier in the morning and the farmer in the afternoon, a real-life display of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s popular slogan Jai Jawan; Jai Kisan. Instead, it ended up showcasing ugly scenes of violence.

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