For the first time in the past two months, the agitating farmers realised the hard way that their path to ensure the repeal of the three controversial farm laws was not only strewn with thorns but is also laced with the state’s deception.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha – an umbrella body of farmers’ unions – had planned to use the occasion of Republic Day to add impetus to their agitation and take it to the next level by holding massive tractor parades across the country as a show of strength. It was naïve to believe that everything would sail smoothly after the Delhi Police granted permission for the parade.
Nevertheless, it was indeed a historic moment in the life of this republic that the weakest of India – its farmers and workers – were out on the streets, challenging the mightiest: the big corporations and their lackeys in politics, bureaucracy and media.
In Delhi, thousands of tractors sporting the national flag and those of farmers’ organisations moved in a disciplined and peaceful manner on the designated route, before a section of them went awry and the rally was called off later in the evening by the Morcha. Not just in Delhi, but tractor parades were held across the country by farmers raising similar demands and expressing solidarity with those agitating on the outskirts of Delhi.
The fear that something untoward would happen during the tractor parade was palpable on the night of January 25. A group led by Deep Sidhu was open in their assertion that they would not follow the designated route.
As the official parade at Rajpath was drawing to a close, shocking visuals were seen by everyone in the country of the vandalism at Red Fort, where a religious flag was hoisted next to the tricolour. Deep Sidhu was prominently visible at the scene. He later confirmed his complicity in a video posted on his Facebook page.
Deep Sidhu is neither part of the Morcha nor represents any of the 40 farmer organisations that are engaged in a dialogue with the Government of India. In fact, he was barred from using the Morcha’s stage in early December, amidst allegations of him espousing the Khalistani cause. Photographs of Sidhu with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah and BJP MP Sunny Deol have also gone viral, indicating his possible connections with the party.
The agitators at Red Fort also indulged in violence against police personnel, forcing some of them to jump into the deep moat around the fort and risk their lives. Reacting to what happened at Red Fort, the Morcha, in a press conference on January 27, regretted the violence and called off the planned march to Parliament House on February 1. The Morcha’s leaders condemned the violence and accused the government of India of a deep-rooted conspiracy to defame the movement.
The way Deep Sidhu and his supporters reached Red Fort, unobstructed at any place by the police, and the way they controlled the events there raises several questions. Why was no preventive action taken against him, when a day before the parade, he announced his intention to go to the Red Fort? Was it only an intelligence failure or was there something more at play? How was he allowed entry into Delhi much before the agreed-upon time, with the barriers conveniently removed? How did he deviate from the route earmarked for the tractor rally without being questioned en route by any policeman? How did he freely access every part of the fort without being stopped? It is worthwhile to mention that the fort is a well-guarded and protected monument, more so on Republic Day.
However, the most surprising aspect was that the religious flag was allowed to stay there for hours, despite the crowd thinning out and the presence of a large police force. Why was the internet shut down in some areas, so that people were not able to witness the tractor parade live and the only visuals available were of the fort with the flag?
Having served in the police, I can say with confidence that the priority of any police officer would be to quickly clear the area of protesters and remove the religious flag to restore the grace of the monument. Was it that the police were waiting for instructions on when to remove it? It is not out of place to mention that the Delhi police headquarters is only about three km away from the fort. Inaction on the part of the Delhi police only strengthens the allegations of conspiracy.
The visuals at Red Fort perfectly suited the narrative that this government has tried to push from the beginning: That the farmer’s movement was in the hands of “Khalistani elements”, in an effort to limit the discontent to just one state, Punjab.
The corporate-controlled media came in full swing, peddling the government’s narrative to discredit the farmers and wean away the general sympathy of the population in their favour. This sympathy had unnerved the government and prevented it from exercising the hard option of cracking down on the protests. The government should remember that the truth can only be masked for a while by a compliant media, but no one can make it disappear. And it did come out in a matter of hours on social media.
In a democratic society, violence has no space. All those involved in attacking the police at the fort or any other place in Delhi should be identified, prosecuted and punished. Similarly, the police should also investigate the allegations of highhandedness against its members, levelled by some farmers’ organisations. Only an impartial probe can establish the culpability of those involved. Looking around, it is difficult to find any organisation or institution left in the country with lesser credibility than the police.
The farmers are engaged in a long-drawn fight to defeat the big corporations and their acolytes. Nowhere in the world have people recently succeeded in doing this so far. While governments are happy to dole out huge amounts from banks to corporates, they dislike loosening their purse strings to aid farmers through minimum support price (MSP) or other forms of support. If they succeed, the farmers of India will make history and be an inspiration for similar movements across the globe.
Avinash Mohananey is a former director general of police, Sikkim. He also worked in the Intelligence Bureau for many years.