Republic Day, 26 January 2021 will go down in the annals of history as one that scarred the glorious history of this great nation called India. The capital was run over by violence, vandalism, arson, and mayhem. It will not only be a blot on what our democracy is about but also a nation that cannot take care of its citizens.
It is also a classic case of how large movements and citizen protests can go wrong and directionless for reasons that may be both random and orchestrated. An underlining engagement between the government and the farmers in the entire ruckus has to be the greatest casualty as from now. The pathetic derailment of the farmers protest by vested interests better known as anti social or extremist elements has hit the credibility of such a protest hard.
In the midst of a pandemic, farmers from across the border in Delhi sat for seventy days braving the severe cold and rain and inclement weather along with their women and children, in make shift conditions, leaving their homes and hearth, to drive a point of their rights to the government that had passed three Agriculture bills in the Parliament in a hurried manner and without much discussion. The reason for mistrust was more to do with the way the laws were passed than the laws themselves. Laws regarding APMC’s, Contract farming and legalization of MSP were more than contentious. After eleven rounds of talks between the farmers and the government failed the farmer unions, more than 40 of them, declared that they would take out a tractor march to the capital peacefully. Permissions were granted by the Delhi Police on a set route and was to be after the ceremonial national parade event at the Rajpath was over. But what unfolded was totally contrary. Tractors marched from the three border points namely Singhu that adjoins Punjab, Tikri that adjoins Haryana and Ghazipur border. As they neared the city barricades were broken by some splinter groups trying to enter Delhi, clashes between the police and farmers broke out at ITO, Pragati Maidan, Peeragarhi Nangloi and Palwal and many more places. The police beat up farmers and rounded them up as well.
The crowd outnumbered the security forces and what was witnessed was an uncontrolled mob running amok in the streets of the national capital Delhi. Two farm protester succumbed to bullets and about 300 policemen injured severely. The visuals and videos of tractors running wild, police lathi charging, protestors overturning barricades, trucks and smashing vehicles were enough for every citizen to be ashamed of themselves. Having managed to run over the significant areas of Delhi, the mob reached Red Fort and in an act of defiance pitched a yellow color flag atop a post under the nose of security forces. Unfortunately no efforts were made to contain the crowd and stop them from doing what was at brazen display of madness to the entire nation. The farmer organisations and leaders have much to answer for here. Mobocracy cannot be justified anyways.
A statement by the farmer leaders the very evening said that the movement was infiltrated by extremists and that they disassociate themselves from it. The man trying to pitch the flag on an empty post at Red Fort was identified as a pro BJP person with his pictures with PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah going viral on social media. The protest was badly hijacked to the surprise of the farmers apparently. It would also be a travesty if one considers as to why would the farmers who braved the protest for 2 months outside the national capital and since seven months in their states would want to see the protest get derailed.
Was this what the government wanted? A peaceful protest going successful, garnering public sympathy was hard to digest by the powers that be, that could see public opinion going against them for ignoring the farmers to the level of their hubris! The nation will never forget a Republic Day when in the posh Lutyens Delhi the ‘haves’ were witnessing a national spectacle of a country marching ahead in action, time and prosperity and on the other the ‘have nots’ fighting a battle for their survival and existence.
What happened at the Red Fort was an attack on our democracy and its spirit but somebody has to take the responsibility of this unfortunate happening that has made us hang our head in shame. Reports say the police did not try to stop crowds entering Delhi. On the other hand the protest had by now become leaderless and splintered. Crowds when uncontrolled have the tendency to go berserk and that’s exactly was witnessed on this Republic Day.
So what about the intelligence? Undeniably the government must have had the information about what is expected to happen. There were apprehensions expressed by intel of law and order problem if tractors were allowed in on the Republic Day. The Delhi police had also received inputs about the possibility of protestors hitting Rajpath, India Gate, Red Fort, Ramlila Ground, Rashtrapati Bhawan, PM residence, HM residence, Parliament House, CM and LG house. It is said there were a lakh protestors and hundreds of tractors.
This 72nd Republic Day was horribly gone wrong. Does such inaction and pusillanimity remind us of Godhra or is another in line with Delhi riots, CAA, JNU or Shaheen Bagh! The government and the system is strong, well oiled and has full state machinery working round the clock to tackle such conditions. What then explains this!
No organization, party, individual or institution is above the nation. The government will do well to address this catastrophe we expect. We as citizens can just hope that the larger issue of the farmers is not brushed under the carpet and that the government acts magnanimous to address concerns and hit the right chord. The nation will wait to see what happens of the Farm bills.