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In parade postmorten, Punjab farm leaders point to mistakes that set up R-Day chaos

'Untrained youth, open call for protest backfired'

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba , Kamaldeep Singh Brar | Amritsar, Jalandhar |
Updated: January 28, 2021 11:13:04 am
Republic Day tractor rally, Delhi violence, Farmers Protests, Republic Day violence, Red Fort violence, Delhi news, Indian Express newsProtesting farmers hoisting the kesari flag at the Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

While farmer leaders have been quick to dissociate themselves from the Red Fort violence on Republic Day, a 20-day campaign was run by farmer unions to mobilise support for the tractor parade which went off tracks on the big day. A BKU Ugrahan leader said that there was a competition among various farm unions to bring more and more tractors to Delhi and for that some organisations had even enrolled the new activists over the past few weeks. These youths had a ‘Do and Die’ sentiment and were tough to control, he added.

In the aftermath of the violence in Delhi, videos are now being widely shared on social media showing union leaders egging people on to “conquer” Delhi on January 26. This despite advice from village-level farmer leaders to stick to seasoned activists for the event.

In a video statement issued in the run up to the tractor parade, president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Krantikari) Surjit Singh Phul was heard saying: “If Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t repeal laws till January 26, a flood of farmers will reach in front of Parliament and India Gate at any cost. Then the demand to Modi will not be just to repeal laws, it would be about getting him out of office and his chair. You are not capable of taking decisions.”

Phul was not alone making such statements.

From the stage at Singhu border protest site, Kirti Kisan Union leader Rajinder Deep had declared: “If you want to achieve something as a human being, then you must come to Delhi on January 26. Park your tractors at check posts on January 25. So that world can talk about these tractors, which would run on the chest of Modi on January 26.”

Such provocative speeches by farmer union leaders were normal to highlight the importance of Kisan Parade during over 20-day long campaign started after January 2.

“We told our leaders that giving an open call for everyone for this parade was the first mistake as this parade would have been handled by the seasoned activists of all the farm unions who are representing every farmer,” said a BKU (Doaba) leader, adding that thousands of youths who had not even spent a day at the morcha landed in Delhi for the parade and they had no patience like that shown by activists camping at the borders for the past two months.

“A large number of youths having no connection with any farm organisation were part of the R-Day parade,” said Sarpanch Saurabh Minhas from Nangal Awana village in Mukerian, adding that several returned from Panipat and Sonepat while others among them reached Delhi’s Red Fort.

Sources pointed to unions sending their leaders to villages to recruit volunteer with tractors to participate in the Kisan Parade, adding that there was no such campaign or recruitment when farmer activists from Punjab had reached Delhi after breaking many barricades on their own on November 26.

“How can one expect the code of conduct of unions to be followed by the youths who have no training under any union,” said Jagsir Singh, BKU (Ugrahan) leader from Bathinda, adding that they tried their best to teach the importance of peaceful agitations to every youth in the village whether they were part of any farm organisation or not.

“But they did exactly what we were fearing…” he added.

‘So many tractors were not needed’

Farmer leaders said that a miscalculation was done in terms of the tractors required for the parade, adding that the number required could have been achieved by just doubling the number of vehicles already parked at the Delhi border. But unions ran a well-oiled campaign to get more tractors to Delhi.

“As per our calculations not more than 20,000 to 25,000 tractors were required to cover the entire stretch of the permitted routes out of which half of the tractors were already parked at Delhi’s borders permanently for the past two months and only half more were required from Punjab, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan. But here we were asked to bring around 80,000 to one lakh from Punjab alone and similar number from Haryana,” said another BKU Ugrahan leader.

Songs further charged up protesters

Most Punjabi songs on farmer agitation also painted Delhi as villain and gave a call to conquer Delhi. These songs were played on tractors when farmer unions held rehearsal parades in the villages in run up to January 26. Singers also used such songs to draw crowd for Republic Day tractor parade.

No route clarity

To drum up support for the stir, farm unions all through the campaign told villagers in Punjab that the tractors would enter Delhi on the day of the parade.

Farmer unions softened their stand on the route for the Kisan Parade in the last 48 hours before the event. However, there was no clarity over parade route among the common protesters.

“We will hold a parallel tractor parade in Delhi on Republic Day in Delhi. We call on all nearby farmers to come to Delhi with their tractors and farm vehicles,” farmer leader Darshan Pal had said in press conference on January 2.

Later, farmer unions said that the parade will be held on the Ring Road.

“We will carry out a tractor parade on the Outer Ring Road in Delhi on Republic Day. The parade will be very peaceful,” Yoginder Yadav had said in his statement on January 18.

The idea of the Ring Road parade soon caught on among farmers in Punjab.

However, it was only on the night of January 24 that Kisan Sanyukat Morcha shared the official route plan on its official twitter account. Soon, many farmer activists started objecting to it on social media itself.

A huge crowd gathered and captured Singhu border stage on the night of January 25 and asked farmer leadership to answer their questions on route for the programme. Farmer leaders, however, failed to do that. This led to many alleging that farmer leaders had surrendered to Delhi Police.

Talking about the setback to the movement, a local farmer leader from Punjab said: “There were several intellectuals supporting this move of an open call and they should have calculated every such bit before embarking on this parade.”

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