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Farmers’ protests | Tractor rally turns violent as farmers enter Capital

Protesters hoist flags on the flagpole at the ramparts of the Red Fort during the farmers’ tractor rally in New Delhi on January 26, 2021.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Delhi witnessed chaotic scenes on Tuesday as groups of protesting farmers broke off from planned Republic Day tractor parade routes and swarmed into the heart of the national capital, hoisting a farm union flag and a Sikh religious flag on the ramparts of Red Fort. Police used tear gas, water cannons and lathi charges to stop farmers at several locations in the city, including at ITO, where one protestor died. 

Delhi Police said 83 police personnel and one civilian had been injured during the protest. By evening, the Home Ministry deployed additional paramilitary forces in Delhi, and suspended mobile internet services in several parts of the city.

Farm union leaders condemned the violence, and distanced themselves from “anti-social elements” they claimed had infiltrated the protest, insisting that the vast majority of protestors remained peaceful. They vowed that their agitation demanding the repeal of three contentious farm reform laws would continue, but admitted that Tuesday’s violence could hurt them in negotiations with the government.

After two months camped on the borders of Delhi, tens of thousands of protesting farmers entered the capital for planned tractor parades on Republic Day. After intense negotiations, Delhi Police had given permission for three parade routes, staying near the border areas, to start from noon. The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the joint front of all protesting unions, agreed to their conditions.

However, trouble started late on Monday night as hundreds of farmers on tractors from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh threatened entry into Delhi at the northeastern Loni border point, with police saying they were “directionless and leaderless”, but wanted to go to Red Fort. On Tuesday morning, even before the official contingents started to roll down Rajpath, one defiant Punjab union, the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee broke down the barricades at the northwestern Singhu border point with Haryana and tractors drove out on the road to Delhi.

By 10 a.m., barricades had been breached at the other two border protest sites as well, Tikri on the west and Ghazipur on the east. In many areas, Delhi residents lined the roads, cheering the incoming farmers and welcoming them with flower petals and garlands.

Watch | Farmers tractor rally takes chaotic turn

Once tractors started deviating from the agreed routes and heading towards the capital’s Outer Ring Road, however, they were met with tear gas, water cannons and lathi charges, in tense stand-offs with the police. The road under the Nangloi flyover in western Delhi turned into a virtual battleground for much of the afternoon as police resorted to several rounds of tear gas shelling in a futile attempt to stop the farmers, many armed with lathis, from violating the parade route. In eastern Delhi, some farmers claimed they lost their way and blundered into the high security ITO area, where they engaged in a violent clash with police, with tear gas, stone-pelting and lathi charges resulting in injuries on both sides. A few farmers in tractors tried to run down police personnel, while others went on a rampage damaging buses and police vehicles. One protestor, 25 year old Ranveet Singh, died allegedly after his tractor overturned, although other protestors alleged he was killed by police firing. 

By early afternoon, protestors had swarmed into the Red Fort grounds, and hoisted the Nishan Sahib, a flag that flies over Sikh gurudwaras, and the flag of one of the farm unions, onto an empty flag post, even while the tricolour flew above the ramparts of the Fort. 

 

Sukhdev Singh Korikala, general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU)-Ekta Ugrahan, one of the largest farm unions in Punjab told The Hindu that the hoisting of a religious flag seemed an “attempt to instigate sentiments” and was done “at the behest of the BJP-led Central government to defame the farmer’s movement”, with the “connivance of the police.” He said video clips had revealed that the flag hoisting was done in the presence of Deep Sidhu, a Punjabi actor and activist who had campaigned for a BJP candidate in 2019. Mr. Korikala claimed this exposed the government, and vowed to continue the movement until the three laws are repealed.

By 7.30 p.m., SKM leaders who had returned to their border protest sites issued a statement, calling off the parade and asking participants to get back to the border sites. “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. We have always held that peace is our biggest strength, and that any violation would hurt the movement,” said the SKM statement, which also blamed the long struggle for the situation.

“Protesting farmers breached the agreement and began their tractor march before the scheduled time. They chose the path of violence and vandalism, and seeing that the police had to take necessary steps to maintain law and order. This agitation led to damage of public property and many police personnel were also injured,” said a Delhi police statement. 

(With inputs from Vikas Vasudeva in Chandigarh, Ashok Kumar in Gurugram, Anuj Kumar in Ghaziabad and Saurabh Trivedi, Vijaita Singh and Priscilla Jebaraj in New Delhi)

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 10:33:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tractor-rally-farmers-break-past-barricades-at-many-points-on-delhis-border/article33666087.ece

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