A protester charges a security personnel during clashes at the Red Fort following farmers' tractor parade on Republic Day, in New Delhi(PTI)
A protester charges a security personnel during clashes at the Red Fort following farmers' tractor parade on Republic Day, in New Delhi(PTI)

Union leaders make appeal, divert blame after anarchy reigns

  • The chaos and violence have raised questions about the future of the two-month-long agitation of farm unions.
By Zia Haq, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 27, 2021 12:27 AM IST

Leaders of farm unions protesting three new agricultural laws, shaken by the events of the day, took recourse to the cliche of “anti social elements” among the protestors, as they desperately sought to deflect the blame for the violent actions of thousands of protesters, who knocked down barricades, clashed with police, and breached the Red Fort as they drove through the nation’s capital in tractors on Republic Day.

The chaos and violence have raised questions about the future of the two-month-long agitation of farm unions. Leaders offered conflicting explanations of what happened. Only at dusk, by which time farmers had run riot through parts of the Capital, did the main organiser of the protests, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, deem it fit to call off the tractor march, asking all farmers to return to their camps on Delhi’s borders.

Samyukt Kisan Morcha insisted a majority of the protesters stuck to agreed routes and were peaceful, and dissociated itself with a large section of farmers who broke ranks to unleash chaos in the heart of the Capital.

Thousands of farmers drove tractors from the borders of Delhi into the city for a massive tractor rally on Tuesday. Soon, they defied police orders and turned towards important institutions in the centre of Delhi, creating a security nightmare on Republic Day.

They hoisted Sikh religious flags atop the Red Fort from where the Prime Minister delivers his Independence Day speech. Riot police beat protestors with batons and fired tear gas to scatter mobs at several places in Delhi. In return, the protesters tried to run down policemen with their tractors.

By noon, top leaders of the farm unions, who repeatedly appealed for a peaceful march, appeared to have lost control over large breakaway factions of farmers as mobs left routes approved for their to march and reached central Delhi, which they were supposed to avoid according to an agreement reached between police and the farm unions. As mobs infiltrated the Red Fort and the ITO area, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha hurriedly issued a statement.

“Despite all our efforts, some organisations and individuals have violated the route and indulged in condemnable acts. Anti-social elements had infiltrated the otherwise peaceful movement,” the unions’ statement said, without providing any evidence of such infiltration. The farm unions described the events as “unacceptable”. Their leaders said they “dissociate ourselves from those indulging in such acts”. Cracks have appeared in the unions over the violence. Some farm leaders blamed one farmers’ organisation, the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, for not accepting an agreement between the farm unions and Delhi Police on routes. “The first group that broke the set routes was not part of the Punjab platform, and since yesterday, farmer leaders from Samyukt Kisan Morcha were pleading with them not to do this,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, a farm leader. Kuruganti was referring to the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, a farmers’ organisation led by SS Pannu and SS Pandher. Pandher blamed police for beating farmers first. Kuruganti blamed the organisation for breaking rules to start the parade two hours earlier than scheduled and breaking routes, leading to the first clashes at Mukarba Chowk, a major junction. “We still don’t know who all went into the Red Fort,” Kuruganti said.

HT’s reporting shows that groups from Singhu border and Ghazipur reached Red Fort.

Several farmer leaders blamed actor Deep Sidhu for the chaos at Red Fort. Sidhu, who acted in Punjabi films before campaigning for candidates in the 2019 general elections, was summoned by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) two weeks ago in connection with a sedition case against US-based banned pro-Khalistan outfit Sikhs For Justice.

Darshan Pal, a key organiser of the protests, admitted some farmer organisations broke ranks. “It is unfortunate. We have appealed to everybody to return to their bases. Those who stay put in the Capital will have to face the law.” A senior farm leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, alleged that the faction that broke away in the Ghazipur area was led by the Rashtriya Lok Dal. Pal said the Samyukt Kisan Morcha would probe the “unexpected” turn of events, which could weaken the farmers’ agitation, but said the peaceful protests would continue.

“It is deeply embarrassing and anguishing for us. It has definitely dented our image. We will have to reassess our strategies,” one farm leader said, requesting anonymity. “Peace is our strength. If peace is broken, then our strength is broken,” said Yogendra Yadav.

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