Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 219, 28 January 2021

India: Farmers' protest turns violent with a political game of double-speak
Alok Gupta

In the news
On 26 January, the farmers' protest turned violent on New Delhi's streets, after two months of their commencement. The outrage was massive and unprecedented; reportedly, 200,000 tractors were mobilized against the permission of 5,000 tractors for the rally and flouted the routes specified by the administration. The protestors and the police clashed after protestors removed the barricades to enter Central Delhi. They successfully entered Delhi, destroyed public property, injured police personnel, stormed the historic Red Fort, and hoisted their two different flags scaling iconic monuments' walls.  

Farmers, while entering Central Delhi, were continuously requested to maintain law and order by the Delhi Police. Reportedly, a tractor overturned leading to the death of a farmer who was driving. When police approached to help and rescue, they were attacked, hence left the scene. Following which the farmers turned violent, and hooliganism began.

The Delhi Police registered FIR against several farmer leaders and has also detained nearly 200 farmers to be arrested. 86 police personnel got injured as reported. According to Police, farmers used swords, lathis and other weapons during their attacks. Hence, police booked them under IPC sections like 395, 397 and 120(b).

Issues at large
The farmers' unions are being accused of double-speak: promising peaceful march to the administration and resorting to violence when allowed in good-faith. Thus, it has led to blame game raising several issues.

First, the police must have had intelligence report if the attack was a planned-one. The administration must be aware of the number and quality of the protestors scheduled to enter Delhi for Tractor Rally, as the matter was under consideration for last two weeks. Under such circumstances, police would have made adequate arrangements to restrain any untoward incident and would have regulated the entry. Calling off participation in Tractor Rally by Samyukt Kisan Morcha on January 26 itself suggests, farmers may be in full-knowledge of such plans.   

Second, one incident of tractor accident and death of farmer may have enraged the protestors. Even if the violence was a consequence of some spontaneous happening, Delhi Police and administration must have had preparation for immediate interventions and containment of its escalation. Then, why it continued destroying huge public property?

Third, the Home Minister, Government of India, must have maintained a strict vigil on the entire episode. Responsibility for maintaining law and order in the wake of proposed tractor rally lies on him. Opposition parties also have blamed it on the government. The Home Minister is being castigated as the weakest Home Minister of India and is being asked for his resignation, taking responsibility for failure to contain it.

Fourth, the government has been on an offensive towards the movement since the beginning. It has been highlighting external funding to the movement, external agencies and branding the protestors as Khalistanis. This smacks of government's mishandling of the movement and lack of capacity to resolve after several rounds of negotiations. 

Fifth, some farmer unions pulled out of the protest movement because of the vandalism in Delhi. The Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, All India Kishan Sangharsh Coordination Committee and the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) condemned it as unacceptable. This suggests that the crack within the movement evident on many occasions is now obvious and has deepened. Protestors are likely to lose the support of civil society.

Sixth, Abhay Singh, MLA of Indian National Lokdal reached Haryana Assembly on a tractor and tendered his resignation to the Speaker from membership of Assembly in support of farmers protest in Delhi. Speaker subsequently accepted the resignation. Since the beginning, attempts have been made at politicization of the movement. Present violence reveals that the political parties are now trying to gain political mileage out of the movement.  

In perspective
The farmer's leaders may not have envisaged that the tractor rally would witness such incidents. The violence questions the control of the leaders over the movement. It may have degraded their 'good cause' in the eyes of the civil society; some may even opine, that the violence has served the very purpose of the government. Vested interests may have been eying to defame the protest movement and were successful in their endeavour.

Government has entire state machinery at its disposal. Therefore, the onus of restraining and containing such episodes of internal conflict lies upon the Government. Political game of one-upmanship must not be played at the cost of public property.   

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