Time for mollycoddling over; protesters have crossed a line, state must take hard legal action

Protesters unfurled and hoisted ‘Kesari’ on Red Fort from whose ramparts the prime minister of India delivers the Independence Day address. Sloganeering protesters entered the national monument and hoisted a Sikh religious flag from the staff from which the prime minister unfurls the Tricolour on 15 August, reported The Hindu.

These scenes played out on TV screens before a horrified nation that had turned on the sets early to watch the 72nd Republic Day celebrations. No sooner did the parade at Rajpath come to an end, reports started pouring in of protesters deviating from the pre-planned route for the tractor rally, breaking through the barriers and flooding on to the arterial roads of New Delhi. What unravelled over the next few hours will remain forever etched on to the collective psyche of an outraged nation.

The protesters ran their tractors through the barricades, demolished every hurdle on their way and unleashed chaos, disruption and mayhem on the city streets in an orgy of wanton violence as farmer union leaders went ‘missing’. The police were outnumbered, beaten back, lathicharged, and even stone pelted. Some particularly disturbing visuals showed a few trying to run their tractors over cops running for their lives.

Bhindranwale posters were spotted as the mob totally went out of control, brandishing swords, vandalizing buses, damaging public property and smashing riot vehicles. Even journalists, covering the developments, were not spared.

With their violence, vandalism and rioting, the protesters have stripped themselves of all legitimacy. The farmer unions know it, and therefore they have released a hasty statement, denouncing the violence and trying to dissociate themselves from it – blaming everything on ‘antisocial elements” who had apparently “infiltrated” their ranks.

This is little more than a desperate attempt to save face. The union leaders can well understand that Tuesday’s wanton violence will have political consequences. Public mood, the lifeblood of any civil protest, is now totally against them and the sacrilegious scenes on national capital on Republic Day, a day laden with symbolism and national unity, have ensured that their ‘movement’ has lost every last bit of the goodwill that was left.

What happened on Tuesday was no longer a ‘farmers’ protest’. This was a well-planned, full-fledged riot on the streets to Delhi, an attack against the State, seeking to overturn through violence a piece of legislation that has been passed by the Parliament – the seat of India’s representative democracy – by a democratically elected government. This attack, therefore, was against the Constitution, against democracy and against the will of the people.

Tuesday’s violence also puncture the ‘manicured’ narrative that the farmers’ movement was ‘peaceful’, and in one stroke it laid bare the sinister plot. The anarchists were trying their best to provoke the state so that the state responds with force and the resultant casualties provide precious political oxygen to the ‘movement’.

The Delhi police on Tuesday foiled this sinister ploy by exercising maximum restraint and even taking body blows, allowing the violent protesters to fully expose themselves. Since the farmers’ protest was all about moral legitimacy of the ‘poor farmer’ against the ‘might of the state’, the rampaging farmers themselves took away the one thing that kept the protests going – moral legitimacy.

By debasing a national monument, dishonoring the Tricolour, and spreading anarchy on streets, they have fatally damaged their ‘movement’. The union leaders and Opposition fanning the protests should now rein in their agents of chaos, failing which the state should take hard action. The time for mollycoddling is over.

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