Tens of thousands of protesting farmers marched, rode horses and drove long lines of tractors into Delhi on Tuesday as part of a Republic Day tractor march to reassert their demand for the repeal of the three contentious farm laws on Tuesday. However, some of the protesters broke through police barricades to storm the historic Red Fort on Republic Day — a deeply symbolic act that revealed the scale of their challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Scenes of deep chaos and violence unfurled on the arterial streets of the National Capital as police lodged tear gas shells and baton-charged the protesters. While Delhi Police claimed 86 of its personnel were hurt, a report in News18 quoted seven farmer organisations to claim over 1,000 people sustained injuries while one person lost his life.
Calm was restored after the Delhi Police forcefully removed protesters from the Red Fort, while the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha — an amalgamation of several smaller farmer bodies — also decided to call off the Republic Day tractor march in the evening.
Meanwhile, traffic went haywire on Delhi streets; long rows of automobiles were stuck on key connecting road circuits including the National Highway 24 and 29, the Barapulah and DND flyovers, Vikas Marg, Delhi Gate and the road leading to Anand Vihar ISBT.
The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation closed off the entry and exit points of at least 20 stations at one point, however, the situation slowly returned to normal by late evening.
Violence on Delhi streets; police claims farmers violated pre-agreed
Clashes broke out in multiple places, leading to violence in well-known landmarks of Delhi and its suburbs, amid waves of violence that ebbed and flowed through the day. While there were no exact estimates of how many farmers were hurt, Delhi Police officials said 86 of their men were injured through the day.
Police said one protester died after his tractor overturned, but farmers said he was shot. Television channels showed several bloodied protesters. Leaders of the farmers said more than 10,000 tractors joined the protest.
Not carrying weapons, following fixed routes and entering Delhi with tractors sans trolleys, were among the several conditions set by farmer leaders and police that were violated by some participants of the tractor parade.
The condition that more than five people will not be seated in tractors was also not followed during the march which turned violent with people opposing the Centre’s new agri laws and police clashing at several places of the city.
Leaders of farmer unions had on Sunday outlined conditions for the tractor parade in Delhi.
They had appealed to the participants of the tractor rally on Republic Day to maintain peace and asked them not to carry weapons, drink alcohol or carry banners with inciting messages. Protestors were asked to specifically follow three routes originating from the Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur border points of the National Capital.
The conditions were agreed upon by union leaders after meetings with the Delhi Police. It was also decided that the tractor rally will start after the Republic Day ceremony concludes, but a section of farmers started it before the scheduled time. Some farmers from the Singhu and the Ghazipur borders also deviated from the fixed routes and headed towards Delhi.
The farmers removed barriers as they pushed ahead and clashed with police personnel who tried to stop them. At many places, they were seen carrying sticks, swords and other sharp-edged weapons and chasing away policemen, PTI said.
A group of farmers who drove from the Ghazipur border to ITO and later reached Red Fort clashed with the police and were seen hitting policemen with sticks. Some protesters near Akshardham were also seen carrying swords and chasing policemen.
As police tried to control the mob of protesters firing tear gas shells, it retaliated with stone-pelting and damaged many vehicles, including buses and police vehicles, PTI reported.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha called off the tractor parade by farmers on Tuesday evening and appealed to participants to immediately return to their respective protest sites.
“We have called off the farmers’ Republic Day parade with immediate effect and appealed to all participants to immediately return back to their respective protest sites,” the farmers’ union body said in a statement.
The Samkyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 41 farmer unions, is leading the protest against the three central farm laws at several border points of Delhi.
Earlier today, the Kisan Morcha disassociated itself from those who indulged in violence during the tractor parade and alleged that some “antisocial elements” infiltrated their otherwise peaceful movement.
Delhi Police register four FIRs
The Delhi Police on Tuesday registered four FIRs in connection with the protesting farmers’ tractor parade, officials told PTI.
“Three FIRs were registered in east district and one in Shahdara district on Tuesday,” a police official said.
In a statement, the city police said protesting farmers violated the pre-decided conditions agreed upon for their tractor parade.
“The farmers began tractor rally before the scheduled time. They also resorted to violence and vandalism,” Delhi Police PRO Eish Singhal said.
“We followed all conditions as promised and did our due diligence but the protest led to extensive damage to public property,” he said.
Religious flag at centre of controversy
A protester “disrespecting” the Tricolour at Red Fort, a site where traditionally the National Flag has been unfurled on every Independence Day, has led to outrage.
The roots of the controversy lay in a video clip showing a protester climbing up a flagpole, and throwing away the Tricolour when he was offered one from the crowd around him. He took a flag with Sikh religious symbol — which was mistaken as a Khalistani flag by some.
Some claimed that the National Flag was replaced from the top of the main dome.
— Sambit Patra (@sambitswaraj) January 26, 2021
However, later it was clarified that the National Flag was not replaced and the Sikh flag was unfurled on an empty flagpole. However, a few people still took umbrage to the fact that a religious flag was flown parallel to the Tricolour at the historic building.
Actor Deep Sidhu, who was among those present during the incident, on Tuesday sought to defend their action, saying it was a symbolic protest and they did not remove the Tricolour.
To symbolically register our protest against the new farm legislations, we put up ‘Nishan Sahib’ and a farmer flag and also raised a slogan of Kisan Mazdoor Ekta, said Sidhu.
The flag represents the country’s unity in diversity, he said while pointing towards the ‘Nishan Sahib’, a symbol of Sikh religion seen at all Gurdwara complexes.
Yogendra Yadav takes responsibility for ‘shameful events’; Opposition condones Centre’s actions
Leaders across the political spectrum on Tuesday condemned the violence and the Red Fort incident, with the Congress’ Shashi Tharoor saying he supported the farmers’ protests from the start but cannot condone “lawlessness”.
“Most unfortunate. I have supported the farmers’ protests from the start, but I cannot condone lawlessness. And on #RepublicDay no flag but the sacred Tiranga should fly aloft the Red Fort,” the former Union minister said on Twitter, tagging a tweet that carried a video of the incident.
Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav, who is among the leaders spearheading the agitation against the farm laws, said they had distanced Sidhu “from our protest right from the beginning”.
“When he (actor Sidhu) participated in a protest at Shambu border and seeing their activities, the farmer unions had decided to keep them away from our movement,” he said.
“Being a part of the protest,” he said, “I feel ashamed of the way things proceeded and I take responsibility for it.”
Prominent opposition leaders including Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar and MK Stalin also held the Centre responsible for pushing the situation this far and adopting a regrettable attitude towards farmers.
Banerjee expresses concern over the situation in Delhi. “Centre’s insensitive attitude and indifference towards our farmer brothers and sisters have to be blamed for this situation,” she added.
Pawar said that the violence can’t be defended and that a way out should have been found over the farmers demands without hurting the protesters who have been agitating for two months.
Pawar said it was the responsibility of the Centre to note why the farmers who were protesting peacefully till now turned angry and added the government should have handled the agitators accordingly. “But it did not happen and the situation deteriorated,” Pawar said, adding, “It is my expectation that the Centre shows prudence and gives up its extreme position on the issue while holding dialogue with these (farmers) bodies.”
Stalin squarely blamed the ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and the Centre for Tuesday’s events, saying that if the AIADMK had opposed the draconian laws, it would not have been passed in the Parliament.
He also regretted the Centre’s attitude towards the farmers and claimed the talks and negotiations held so far were an eyewash.
With inputs from PTI