At the very outset, let me state that I condemn violence of all types, including violence by or against protesting farmers in Delhi on the 72nd Republic day.
What happened yesterday was self-inflicted by an insensitive government. Farmers had been protesting peacefully for the last 60 days without being provoked by attempts from rogue elements – allegedly planted by right-wing supporters of the farm laws – and distasteful propaganda to malign them as “Khalistanis” or proxies of “arhatias” (middlemen) and rich farmers.
It was therefore surprising to find the police using tear gas and lathis on farmers peacefully marching on their tractors. It was equally distressing to find some farmers chasing policemen on their tractors or attacking them – perhaps after feeling aggrieved by unprovoked aggression by the police.
It must be granted that in this case the police were faced with large crowds and but why were they not prepared for this? There was enough indication that several lakhs of farmers, along with large numbers of tractors, were about to enter Delhi. The fact that the police had approached the Supreme Court to prevent farmers from taking out the rally was indicative of their apprehensions. So why didn’t they put in place adequate measures to prevent untoward incidents?
That, in spite of this colossal mismanagement, no major incidents of violence took place is to the credit of the agitating farmers, who all along had maintained that theirs would be a peaceful march. One can’t fathom the reason for placing barriers even after farmers were granted permission for the rally. The barriers put in place were in any case ineffective to stop the tractors. Why did the police use teargas or lathi charges on protesters even if the farmers had diverted from the designated route? Why were some routes reportedly changed at the last moment? Such last-minute changes would naturally cause confusion and chaos as witnessed yesterday at many places.
The moot question to ask, therefore, is whether such acts were unintentional errors of judgment or were they carried out by design to discredit the farmers’ movement which, in spite of all efforts of sabotage, had remained peaceful. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t speak well about the leadership of the Delhi Police. It is a measure of their incompetence if their excuse is that they didn’t have intelligence. The sequence of events indisputably indicated that they were complicit, as well as complacent, in abdicating their responsibility and compelling their command to face the music without adequate reparation and wherewithal.
Its leadership must be sacked for gross incompetence and negligence.
That several efforts were made to sabotage the farmer’s movement and bring it into disrepute is evident from an on camera confession by several persons – presumably working at the behest of people favouring the farm laws – apprehended at the protest site. The man who climbed up the ramparts of the Red Fort to unfurl the Nishan Sahab flag is widely known to be a BJP member and polling agent of a BJP MP.
It is, therefore, gross incompetence and complicity on the parts of the police, administration and political leadership that events spiralled out of control in this manner.
It is then no surprise that many are alleging that the events were deliberately fabricated to discredit the farmers’ movement. The propaganda machinery is already hard at work to spread precisely this narrative.
The eerie similarity between the sequence of events that occurred on January 26 and what happened during the Delhi riots last year or the events at Jamia Milia and JNU is too stark to be missed.
In 2020, visuals of police brutality inside the library at Jamia Milia Islamia on December 15, 2019, were released. The police had not only resorted to excessive use of force, but they also attempted to destroy evidence of their complicity by breaking several CCTV cameras upon realising that their acts were being recorded and may be used as evidence. The same police stood with “splendid inactivity” at JNU while the right-wing goons attacked hapless students inside their hostel rooms. Their complicity has been further exposed by unabashedly one-sided investigations into the incidents where the victims instead of the perpetrators have been accused and the lawyers of the victims being intimidated through raids and being charged with flimsy cases against them!
The police, in any case, doesn’t have much goodwill in society. It has, however, further alienated the masses in recent times by such acts as described above. Instances of rampant corruption at all levels, misuse of powers to victimise innocents, fake encounters etc. have further given a bad name to the police. That the leadership is unable to prevent the drift is a reflection of their defective selection, training and grooming process. Political interference is no less a culprit in this overall fall into the abyss.
That political leadership of the day, which is totally insensitive to the plight of masses even though they profess to be the champion of their cause, is also equally responsible for the events of yesterday. They are widely perceived to be working for benefit of a few capitalists. Demonetisation, the GST, CAA etc. are only some of the ill-conceived measures imposed by them that have put a great amount of distress on the poor.
The loss of income and rise in joblessness amongst the poor has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The leadership has only paid lip service to the marginalised in the name of succour. The widespread misuse of laws against the poor and deprived and the persecution of minorities as authorities turn a blind eye has now reached a point where it is proving to be counter-productive to them. The political leadership is guilty of pushing through purported reforms without consultations and without proper procedure.
The events of January 26 are reflective of the shrinking patience amongst common people with a government which is increasingly being seen as insensitive and is blatantly misusing government machinery to curb dissent. It was an attempt by the masses to reclaim their rightful place in the democratic polity.
A small child throwing a stone at the abode of the despotic landlord in the classic film Ankur of yesteryears is symbolic of the increasing impatience of the downtrodden with their state of affairs.
It is high time that the administration, the police and all other players responsible for improving the condition of the masses actually become responsive to people’s concern and work for improving their lives. Our republic is now 73 years old and it is high time that the elite stops acting like “brown sahibs”.
Sanjiv Krishan Sood retired as Additional Director General, Border Security Force.