“We will enter Delhi at 8 am and we will march on the Ring Road,” declared Sarwan Singh Pandher of the Kisan Majdoor Sangharsh Committee on the Republic Day eve, even as his organisation of young, radical protesters refused to accept both the rally route and the timing set for the tractor parade by the police. It was clear 24 hours in advance of the tractor parade that the younger, angrier elements among several lakh protesters were straining at the limits set by their elders.
When the Red Fort was breachedProtesters marching to the Fort and unfurling flags invite widespread condemnation
But despite the threat, delivered in full public view to thousands of angry youngsters chanting martial slogans, both the leaders of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha under whose aegis the farmers have been protesting and the police seemed wholly unprepared for the outbreak of skirmishes, violence and ultimate siege of the Red Fort. For the 40 leaders who have been representing the movement, it has been a strategic failure not to rope in those who have the ears of the young and the restless in the crowd. Pandher’s organisation is not a part of the SKM, so he is not obliged to listen to their appeals.
The SKM has also barred elements like actor Deep Sidhu and his controversial aide Lakha Sidhana and younger participants such as Sukhpreet Udhoke and Baba Raja Raj Singh to speak from their platform for different reasons.
What went wrong
These fissures in what has thus far been considered a united front of the farmers, exploded on the streets when Pandher beckoned the youngsters to break the barricades and pour into unchartered routes. In a tweet late this evening, activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan flashed a video of Deep Sidhu hoisting the Sikh religious flag, the Nishan Sahib, on the Red Fort. Bhushan accused Sidhu of performing this at the behest of the BJP.
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Ironically, Sidhu is among the 40 people associated with the farmers’ movement who have been summoned by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) allegedly for their association with Sikh secessionist organisations. Sidhu has accused the BJP-led Centre of framing him in false cases because of his involvement with the farmers’ protest.
The only verifiable fact is that both Sidhu as also Lakha Sidhana have been appealing to the youngsters in the protest to keep calm. “One wrong move, even the tiniest spark of violence can tar this whole peaceful movement. We need to be very careful and act responsibly. We need to exercise restraint when we march on the Republic Day,” Lakha Sidhana said to the protesters two days before the Republic Day parade.
Sidhana or Sidhu may not have the heft and experience of the older farmer leaders such as Darshan Pal or even the more radical Joginder Ugrahan, but they are popular with the younger protesters who listen to them. The inability to employ them strategically or take effective charge themselves is what led to the fiasco on the Red Fort and the violent skirmishes at the ITO, which led to the death of a young protester.
The police, on their part, were totally outnumbered and helpless in the face of the massive crowds that surged at the ITO and Red Fort which were not part of the routes mapped out for the protests. But for a protest of this magnitude with warnings that protesters may not follow the routes charted out already issued, under-deployment of police personnel also indicated total intelligence failure.