Skirmishes with police at some places mar an otherwise peaceful kisan parade in Delhi

Published : January 27, 2021 08:11 IST

A section of the kisan parade taken out on January 26, at Nangloi in New Delhi. Photo: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Police use tear gas to disperse farmers attempting to break barricades as they try to march from Tikri border towards Peeragarhi during the kisan parade on January 26, at Nangloi in New Delhi. Photo: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Barring some skirmishes between the police and a section of the farmers in Delhi, the Kisan Parade yesterday against the three contentious farm laws by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), a front representing more than 500 farmer organisations in the country, was by and large peaceful. Tractor parades were organised all over the country even though it was the events in Delhi that dominated media attention and for the wrong reasons. The farmers’ unions had decided among themselves to take out a peaceful parade on the outer ring road of Delhi but their request was denied by the Delhi Police. The SKM then agreed to the routes offered by the Delhi Police.

On January 26, by and large all the farmer organisations leading the protests at the Delhi border points stuck to the designated routes. At some point, some tractors broke away and a group headed towards central Delhi where they were pushed back, teargassed and lathicharged by the police. Some protesters planted a flag with a religious symbol atop an empty flagpole at Red Fort, which was brought down by the police soon after. But the incident was immediately picked by sections of the electronic media in order to suggest that the farmer unions had insulted the idea of the Republic and so on. There were clashes in two other areas, Nangloi and Palwal on the Delhi-Haryana border. Internet services were suspended in three districts of Haryana.

At least one farmer died when his tractor overturned after hitting a barricade. The police on its part beat up many farmers and rounded them up as well. Some policemen also sustained injuries. The police, farmers claimed, changed the routes at will. At Palwal, Faridabad, on the Delhi-Haryana border, the routes were diverted by the police. Confusion reigned as farmers did not know how to proceed further. The police attacked the tractors and beat up farmers, said Jaswant Singh, one of the spokespersons of the SKM at Palwal. He said the police dishonored the national flag which was placed atop one of the tractors.

The farmer unions have denied having any role in the skirmishes and attributed the incident at the Red Fort to mischievous elements. Hannan Mollah, general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), said that the Kisan Parade was held all over the country and peacefully. There were insidious forces which orchestrated the violence in Delhi and that would be looked into, he said. There appeared to be a conspiracy to defame the movement, he said, while condemning the act of hoisting a flag other than the national flag at the Red Fort. The farmers unions, he said, could not be held responsible for the incidents as it was illogical and unlikely that farmers would inflict damage on their movement against the farm laws that had been peaceful so far.

The police, he pointed out, stood by when the flag was hoisted. The police action began only after the flag was put up, he said. “For seven long months, the protests have been totally peaceful and farmers have endured freezing temperatures. I appeal to the media not to repeatedly show images that can defame a peaceful democratic movement,” he said.

In a statement, the SKM attributed the incident at the Red Fort to mischievous elements. “We condemn and regret the undesirable and unacceptable events that have taken place today and dissociate ourselves from those indulging in such acts. 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 long struggle for more than six months now and more than 60 days of protest at Delhi’s borders also seem to have led to this situation. We appeal to everyone not to indulge in any violent action or anything that taints national symbols and dignity,” stated the SKM, adding that it was trying to get a full picture of all the Kisan Parades held.

All the important farmer leaders individually dissociated themselves from the unsavory incidents describing them as “unfortunate”. Leaders like Hannan Mollah of the AIKS; Joginder Singh Ugrahan of the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan); Gurnam Singh Chaduni; Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj India; Balbir Singh Rajewal, president, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal); Naresh Tikait, BKU (Uttar Pradesh); and Shiv Kumar Kakka, Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh condemned the skirmishes that occurred in some areas.

The SKM had given a long list of dos and don’ts to be observed during the protest. Strict instructions were given to observe discipline at all times. There were no directions to move in the direction of Red Fort. Leaders like Sarwan Singh Pandher, general secretary of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) had issued messages urging the protesters who had strayed from the route to return to the protest points. Some farmers’ representatives said the police allotted the tractor routes only two days before January 26 although the announcement of the Kisan Parade was done much in advance.

It was learnt that one Deep Sidhu, a Punjabi actor who had been sidelined by the SKM, was reportedly the force behind hoisting the contentious flag. In a video message on his Facebook page, he reportedly said: “We only hoisted the Nishan Sahib at the Red Fort while exercising our democratic right to protest; India flag not removed.” He was reportedly the election agent of Sunny Deol, the BJP Member of Parliament from Gurdaspur, Punjab. The farmer unions have dissociated themselves from Deep Sidhu and the events at the Red Fort and also wondered how the police did not stop the protesters reaching the Red Fort.

Gurnam Singh Chaduni, president of the BKU (Haryana), told the media that what Deep Sidhu did was condemnable. “We think he is a stooge of the government and did what he did on purpose to defame our movement. We had no programme of going to Red Fort. This movement is a farmers’ movement and a religious flag should not have been put up. But the government could have given us the route we had asked for earlier. Their actions are equally condemnable as they shot at farmers today,” he said.

The protests at the Delhi borders, farmers’ unions say, will continue until the laws are repealed. The incidents of January 26 in Delhi may have been a temporary setback but all the unions are very much unified in their opposition to the farm laws, the repeal of which is the prime demand.

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