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Night before, how a group of hardliners hijacked protest

For about six hours, from 6 pm to midnight, a group of youths hijacked the stage to oppose the route agreed upon between SKM leaders and Delhi Police. Their protest was webcast live on some Punjabi web channels as well as some individual social media accounts.

Protestors clash with police personnel at ITO, New Delhi. (Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

“Our route, Ring Road”. The call to break away from the designated routes, many farm leaders said, was given by some fringe elements, who took over the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) stage at the Singhu border for hours on Monday night.

For about six hours, from 6 pm to midnight, a group of youths hijacked the stage to oppose the route agreed upon between SKM leaders and Delhi Police. Their protest was webcast live on some Punjabi web channels as well as some individual social media accounts.

Initially, it was some unknown faces, demanding that SKM leaders come on the stage and answer their questions regarding the route decided for the tractor parade. But later, some known faces, like Lakhbir Singh Sidhana alias Lakha Sidhana (40), gangster-turned-politician and president of the Malwa Youth Federation, and Punjabi film actor Deep Sidhu, who campaigned for the BJP’s Sunny Deol in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, addressed the crowd.

Deep Sidhu in a video of himself at Red Fort

“Our leadership is under pressure. We shouldn’t put more pressure on them. But we can ask them to take a decision that is acceptable to all. They should come on the stage. If they don’t come, then we will take a decision. You all should decide who should take the decision in that case,” Sidhu said in his speech.

Read |Chaos at ITO indicates how violence spiralled: Many didn’t care about route plan, Delhi was destination

“Thousand of youths want to take the Ring Road. The Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee has already decided to take the Ring Road. They are protesting ahead of us, so our tractors will be behind them. So if anyone wants to go on Ring Road, they can follow the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee… What is the issue then? You should cool down,” Sidhana told the gathering.

At the Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

While Sidhu was at Red Fort on Tuesday, Sidhana’s presence could not be confirmed. In a video released on social media soon after the Red Fort incident, Sidhu, speaking in Hindi, said it was the outcome of the agitation that has been going on for several months, and could not be blamed on one person. He said the Nishan Sahib and Kisan Union flags were hoisted “in a flow of emotions”.

“I had warned that our leaders had taken a decision which is again the youth’s sentiments. When the SKM was asked to take a decision that is acceptable to all, they rejected this request. How can Deep Sidhu instigate such a huge crowd… You will not find a single video of me leading anyone to Red Fort. Everyone was swayed by the moment,” he said.

Sidhu and his brother, Mandeep Singh, were among those summoned by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) earlier this month in connection with a case filed against the Sikhs For Justice.

Sidhana was acquitted in several heinous cases before contesting the 2012 assembly polls, unsuccessfully, as a candidate of the People’s Party of Punjab, floated by Manpreet Singh Badal. He is seen as instrumental in connecting the youth to the farmers’ agitation.

Read |Farm leaders slam violence: Movement hit, peace our power

Amid the speeches, the crowd, mostly youth, at Singhu raised slogans of “Our Route, Ring Road”, “Parade Road, Ring Road”. Many in the crowd alleged that farmer leaders had done a turnaround from their original call for a Republic Day parade in Delhi.

Farmers attempt to break barricades as they try to march towards Red Fort during ‘Kisan Gantantra Parade’ amid the 72nd Republic Day celebrations, in New Delhi, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (PTI Photo/Arun Sharma)

Farmer union leaders didn’t respond to the gathering. It was only after the crowd dispersed that some farmer union activists took over the stage and started raising slogans.

“Farmer unions first gave a call to reach Parliament on Republic Day. Then they revised the call to just entering Delhi. Then they scaled it down to Ring Road. But, in their agreement with Delhi Police, they even stepped back from Ring Road. The youth were agitated by this. We asked them to cool down and follow the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee if they wanted to take the Ring Road, while others could stick to the route decided by the SKM,” Dr Sukhpreet Singh Udoke, a Sikh writer, who was also present on the stage, told The Indian Express.

On Monday morning, the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) had announced its decision to march on Ring Road.

With the KMSC protest site near the SKM site at Singhu, protesters at the Singhu border also joined the march towards Ring Road. By the time SKM started its march on the designated route, many protesters were already on their way to Ring Road, said sources.

When contacted, KMSC leaders said they had no plans to go to Red Fort. Groups of protesters, however, decided to take the turn to Red Fort from Majnu Ka Tilla, and the situation went out of hand, they said.

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