New Delhi: Several prominent civil rights activists on Friday, January 29, accused BJP-backed groups of fomenting trouble on Republic Day to discredit the peaceful and organised farmers’ agitation. They also said that the agitation would continue despite attempts by the pro-government ‘godi’ media to tarnish the image of farmers and also despite repeated attacks by alleged BJP-backed goons on peaceful protesters at the Tikri, Ghazipur and Singhu borders of Delhi.
Coming together at a media meet organised by Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch at Press Club of India, civil society representatives also called upon people to see through the designs of the government to discredit genuine protests that question its faulty policies.
Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan said several questions arise from the manner in which on January 26, some people went out of the designated route for the tractor rally, reached Red Fort and hoisted the religious flag of the Sikhs, the Nishan Sahib.
Bhushan highlighted that the “the national tricolour was not pulled down”.
“The Samyukt Kisan Morcha had an agreement with the police about staying on the designated routes and they issued a statement that an organisation which was not a part of their group and had been allowed by the police to sit on the Delhi side of the Singhu border was the only one that declared on January 25 night that they would proceed on Ring Road during the tractor rally,” he pointed out.
Stating that this group had declared that it would not follow the designated route, Bhushan said, “The police knew about this and Yogendra Yadav told me that he had over 10 calls from senior police officers in which they said that this group was saying things like this.”
Also, Bhushan said Deep Sidhu and his group also captured the Singhu border platform on January 25 evening and began stating that they too would not follow the designated route. “This too the police knew and yet the police did not make a serious effort to stop these groups on Ring Road. They were allowed to go right up to Red Fort.”
‘The anarchists enjoyed police patronage, were close to BJP’
Bhushan said usually there is a lot of security at the Red Fort, particularly on Republic Day, and yet alleged protesters were allowed to reach there and climb its ramparts. “This happened under the patronage of the police.”
Later, he said, “We came to know that Deep Sidhu hoisted the flag there and also did a Facebook Live [broadcast]. And yet he was allowed to leave the spot. Till date, he has not been arrested. Later we learnt that he has deep relations with BJP. He was the campaign manager of party MP Sunny Deol in the last general elections. There are also photographs of his with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah at 7, Race Course Road and other places.”
‘Pro-government media spun a narrative’
Bhushan also accused the pro-government media of weaving a narrative against the farmers. “The government was using the ‘godi’ media to show this campaign to be run by Khalistanis. Though the only statements in favour of Khalistan came from the groups led by Deep Sidhu and others, no action was taken against them because they were one with BJP. They were given a free hand to climb on top (of Red Fort) and no attempt was made to arrest them.”
He also accused the government of harassing genuine farmer leaders by registering false cases against them. “And now the police has registered FIRs, invoking UAPA besides sections of Indian Penal Code, against Yogendra Yadav and others despite their regularly calling out to their supporters to remain peaceful and conduct their protests in a non-violent and organised manner, and in accordance with the agreement,” he said.
‘BJP trying to end agitation by using violent means’
An effort, he charged, is being made by the government and BJP-incited gangsters to end the agitation. “Yesterday a large contingent of police was sent to Ghazipur border to threaten the farmer leaders to end their agitation. It is another matter that a lot of farmers on learning about this began reaching the protest site and this prevented the government from succeeding in its designs,” he added.
Relating this to past incidents involving BJP activists, he said, “BJP’s goons, who had entered Jawaharlal Nehru University or had orchestrated the North East Delhi riots – with Kapil Mishra openly threatening violence – have similarly resorted to violence against the farmers at Singhu border.”
Moderating the event, professor at Delhi University and political commentator Apoorvanand, said, “On January 26 much of the rally passed through the designated route and a small segment came to Delhi and some incidents of destruction and anarchy took place at ITO and Red Fort. But these incidents were used to attack the farmers’ agitation.”
He added that while pro-government media resorted to a campaign against the agitation, the government registered criminal cases against farmer leaders and then crowds were gathered and sent to attack the places where the farmers are gathered. Also, he said, a violent crowd gathered outside the residence of Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav.
In light of the present situation, Bhushan on behalf of civil society, appealed to people to observe a day’s fast on Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom day, January 30, observe silence for a minute at 5 pm, and conduct an all-religion prayer to show solidarity with the farmers.
Dinesh Abrol of Nation for Farmers said citizens need to thank farmers for “running such a peaceful protest for two months.” Even on Republic Day, Abrol said, most farmers had followed the designated route.
“There were millions of farmers who participated in the rally and many things could have happened, but no ordinary citizen was hurt. We have seen agitations by right-wing groups and how ordinary people suffer during these, but nothing of that sort happened,” he said.
As for the farmers, he recalled how they even served food to police personnel who used tear gas and water cannons on them during the agitation. “So the farmers deserve all the praise for the way they have conducted themselves.”
Abrol said the agitation was not confined to Delhi alone. Over 50,000 farmers came out in Mumbai and parades were organised in a large number of places across the country.
He also called for a fact-finding enquiry into the incidents because false cases are being registered against the farmer leaders. “They have put a lot of civil society leaders behind bars in the past by calling them urban Naxals, etc. and we need to prevent similar misuse of laws this time.”
He said this was important agitation for the country’s food security and for the welfare of the farmers. “And so we need to ensure its success.”
Professor Atul Sood of the Centre for the Study of Regional Development at JNU said the entire nation has accepted that the three black farmer laws were against the interests of the nation. As such, he said, when the government does not want to answer relevant questions that are raised in protests against its flawed policies, it seeks to criminalise the protests so that it does not have to explain itself.
“They have tried to tarnish the image of the farmers, sought to wedge a divide by relating the protests to farmers of a particular religion or state, and gone on to declare that anti-national people were involved in these agitations,” he said, adding that after January 26, these attempts have become even more brazen. But, Sood said, people know the reality and that “this is a completely secular protest”.
Gandhian thinker and activist Kumar Prashant said after the January 26 incidents the question that needs to be asked is who made the protests go wayward. “The media is trying to project that the farmers have lost, but if they have, who has won? Are you standing against the farmers? We all owe our origins or roots in the farmlands,” he said.
He added that this was an agitation to get social justice for the farmers.
‘Tarnish a genuine agitation’
Social activist Shabnam Hashmi spoke about how the government had earlier tried to similarly tarnish and wrongfully portray agitations by students, teachers, and civil society against the Citizenship Amendment Act. “The prime minister and home minister think that they can similarly dislodge any agitation.”
She said an attempt to this effect was made at Ghazipur on Thursday night. Hashmi recalled lines by famous Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi: “Zulm phir zulm hai, badhta hai to mitt jaata hai” (‘Atrocities are what they are, when they increase, they get obliterated’).
“So,” she said, “we are here to say that what is happening is before the entire nation – a sold-out media is running government propaganda and the BJP is sending its goons to attack peaceful farmers. You will not be able to crush the farmers’ agitation like this.”