Hoisting of the flag on Republic Day took on a whole new meaning when the Nishan Sahib, a religious symbol, started fluttering from the Red Fort around mid-day
Republic Day saw violent, chaotic scenes erupt in central parts of Delhi which were to remain out of bounds for the farmers’ tractor rally. Farmers demanding the new farm laws be scrapped were given a route to pass through on their tractors, but ITO, Red Fort, Shahdara, Nangloi Chowk and Mukarba Chowk saw them breaching the promises of the union leaders.
Police used teargas shells, and baton-charged protesting farmers. One protestor died in the clash, with some reports saying he was shot by the police while others claimed the speeding tractor he was walking beside overturned and crushed him. The police too claimed injuries, citing 83 of their personnel had been injured.
They managed to eventually remove protesting farmers from inside Red Fort premises while thousands of farmers and supporters remained outside. By early evening, a few tractors left, while many more stayed on, many hovered around taking selfies; random chants of “Jo bole so Nihaal” rang out, with the crowd chiming back in unison “Sat sri Akal” as night fell.
Amarjeet Singh Bains, a member of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Doaba) and a farmer from Jalandhar was one of the many who were still around, sitting in his modified tractor with iron mesh for safety. Bains says he got it done because of what the Haryana police did when they tried to enter Delhi in November last year — they dug trenches to stop protesters, as well as used tear gas and water canons. The farmers did not lose sight of their goal, though, and stayed with their peaceful protest–till Republic Day.
What has set many critics of protesters in a tizzy is that the Red Fort was breached and many protesters stormed inside after clashing with the police, managing to then hoist the Nishan Sahib — a Sikh flag — next to the tricolour.
Farmers union body Samyukta Kisan Morcha later condemned the violence that erupted during the rally, calling it “undesirable” and “regrettable”. It disassociated itself from those who resorted to violence, and said some anti-social elements infiltrated their movement.
Bains said those who breached the walls of the Red Fort were young, but at the same time did not put that forward as an excuse. “They are angry because the government is not listening to us. We have sat in protest against the new farm laws for months but the BJP government is not relenting.”
“If the BJP had listened, we would have brought them into power. Now it will not happen, at least not in our village. We will not allow them to even set foot inside. They come to our villages and ask us for votes, but don’t support us.” And while statements against the party in power at the Centre have made them prey to the accusations of being led by opposition parties, Bains firmly adds that the farmers don’t seek help from any party and “this is our struggle alone”.
“Badal ney hamari jawani le li, aur Modi ne hamara budhapa (Badal took away our youth, and Modi our old age)”, Bains told us. Badal here means former chief minister of Punjab Parkash Singh Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal.
Bains feels personally affected as do the lakhs who remain stationed at the borders, unmoved even by the cold temperatures that north India has been witnessing. He has spent the last two months, since 25 November literally on the road. “My wife is a teacher and is back at home. My daughter lives in Canada. She tells me ‘You stay there till you are successful. I will support you with whatever you need, you continue your struggle’.”
Manjeet Singh, another farmer from Jalandhar, told us he too was determined to not move from their protest site until the Centre repealed the farm laws. They do plan on moving once more, that is on 1 February, when they aim to reach the Parliament grounds in protest.
After the chaos of 26 January however, how successful they will be in reaching their planned destination is not known. But as the sun set on Red Fort, farmers left for their protest sites at the borders of Delhi, still determined to continue this battle.