New Delhi: The farmers’ agitation – bereft of a well-defined leadership and a clear chain of command -- which perhaps was largely responsible for the R-Day disaster, has decided to retrace its steps.
To begin with, it has called off the proposed march to Parliament on February one – the day of Union Budget’s presentation.
With R-Day’s distressing images playing out on TV incessantly, the unions realise that they run the risk of losing legitimacy and alienating their pan India support base.
Driven on the back-foot by the extremist elements that have sneaked into their ranks and tried to usurp the movement on January 26, the unions have decided to return to their Gandhian devices and plan to organise a nationwide one-day fast on Martyr's Day on January 30.
The unbridled show of aggression – by brandishing swords and chasing men in uniform – has had a collateral damage: the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan and the Bhartiya Kisan Union have announced that they can’t continue with the ongoing protest. ‘‘We are discontinuing our agitation but our fight for farmers' rights will continue," a spokesperson of RKMS was quoted as saying by news agency ANI at Ghazipur border. He added that the agitation will continue "but not like this". This format was not acceptable to them.
‘‘I am deeply pained at whatever happened in Delhi and am ending our 58-day protest," Thakur Bhanu Pratap Singh, president of BKU (Bhanu), was quoted as saying. At Chilla border, where his group's protest was on, farmers were seen packing up and leaving.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), until now an umbrella organisation of over 40 farmer unions, on Wednesday delinked itself from the violence at the Red Fort, dismissing it as a "conspiracy" by some elements in the ruling BJP to defame their peaceful movement.
In a statement, the SKM said the tractor march was totally peaceful on at least three routes, led by the farm leaders and escorted by the police. Asserting that the protest at the Red Fort was not at all in their plan, the apex body said it had called off the protests on Tuesday evening itself and asked all those present at the Red Fort site to immediately return to the camps on Delhi’s periphery.
It also issued an appeal, especially to Nihangs, who were seen moving sround with swords and on horses.
The SKM further claimed anti-social elements had infiltrated the otherwise peaceful movement. ‘‘The long drawn festering struggle for more than 6 months (in Punjab) and more than 60 days at Delhi’s borders had also led to this situation," they acknowledged.
The police on Wednesday booked seven leaders for the R-Day violence, the prominent among them being Rakesh Tikait, Darshan Pal and Yogendra Yadav. The SKM, however, said none of these leaders had led any mob on the rampage.
The police has, in fact, booked all the 40 farmer leaders who had 11 rounds of talks with the Centre; this was done as they had breached an undertaking given to authorities to ensure a peaceful tractor march.
Delhi was quiet on Wednesday, a day after the protesters ran amok, even as the union leaders alleged that the police did not arrest any rowdy element, to protect their identity.
A spokesman said the police is scanning the mobile phone recordings in the area as well as the CCTV footage and using facial recognition software to identify the culprits. He said the police could not secure the arrests since the demonstrators had outnumbered the police – by as much as 500 to 600 protesters per police personnel.
Shah takes stock of situation
Union Home Minister Amit Shah took charge of the situation Tuesday afternoon, deciding in a high-level meeting to deploy paramilitary forces in the national capital. Law and order in Delhi comes under the Home Ministry and not under the Delhi government of Arvind Kejriwal.
Actor with dubious roots
The farm leaders blamed Punjabi actor and activist Deep Sidhu for instigating the rowdy elements to create violence and hoisting a Sikh religious flag (Nishaan Sahib) on a pole in the Red Fort complex. They said they had been trying to wean away Sidhu from the movement as he was continuously instigating the farmers, including on Monday night, and they suspected his credentials as a pro-BJP leader since he had actively campaigned for film actor-turned BJP MP Sunny Deol in his election to the Lok Sabha from Gurdaspur. Deol has, however, distanced himself from Sidhu.
In a tweet, Sidhu denied the report that any of his supporters had removed the tricolour and planted the 'Nishan Sahib" in its place. He justified hoisting the religious flag though, claiming that he was exercising his democratic right to protest.
Immediately after the violence erupted, the government clamped down on internet in the area. Delhi Metro also shut down several of its stations, but all reopened Wednesday morning, except for the one at Red Fort.