After farmers crash barriers to enter Delhi, Home Ministry calls meet

The two-month-old protest by farmer unions, camping at the gates of Delhi to seek the repeal of the new agriculture laws, descended into chaos on Republic Day when hundreds of protesters, breaking away from a planned tractor rally on the city’s outskirts, felled barriers at the borders, clashed with police to enter the Capital, and stormed the Red Fort to unfurl the Nishan Sahib flag. One protester died when his tractor overturned while ramming a road barrier at ITO and scores were injured, among them many policemen, as mobs resorted to violence and vandalism while forcing their way into the Capital, around the time the Republic Day parade was underway on Rajpath. The parade though remained unaffected by the turn of events elsewhere. [embedded content] Wielding sticks and swords, many among the protesters attacked policemen who tried to stop them. At most places, the policemen appeared outnumbered and had to retreat as the protesters advanced. Internet services were downed in several parts of Delhi as authorities called for reinforcements. Shaken by the unruly scenes, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the umbrella organisation of farmer unions spearheading the protests, distanced itself from the groups that forced their way into the Capital. In a statement, the SKM said: “We thank farmers for the unprecedented participation in today’s Farmers Republic Day Parade. We also condemn and regret the undesirable and unacceptable events that have taken place today and dissociate ourselves from those indulging in such acts.” “Despite all our efforts, some organisations and individuals have violated the route and indulged in condemnable acts. Anti-social elements had infiltrated the otherwise peaceful movement. We have always held that peace is our biggest strength, and that any violation would hurt the movement,” it said. As the Union Home Ministry called a meeting to take stock, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, in a Twitter post, said: “Shocking scenes in Delhi. The violence by some elements is unacceptable. It’ll negate goodwill generated by peacefully protesting farmers. Kisan leaders have disassociated themselves & suspended #TractorRally. I urge all genuine farmers to vacate Delhi & return to borders.” Until Monday night, police and farm leaders had come to an agreement to march from Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur along three designated routes before returning to the protest sites. The agreement, though, was swiftly breached by 8 am Tuesday as farmers at the three sites used tractors to knock down police barricades and start moving towards central Delhi, which was already on high alert on account of Republic Day. Despite farmers breaching the barricades at Singhu, the largest protest site, the march initially was peaceful, with policemen watching from the sides and the youth also forming a chain to prevent any participant from moving ahead on their own or picking up any sticks from the roadside. However, some in the crowd wanted to take a different direction. “We have to go beyond the barricades. The decision of our leaders will be final but the police cannot stop us if we want to move ahead. The farmer is the backbone of this nation. If the government will not listen to them, how will it understand the concerns of youth,” 23-year-old Parminder Singh, a resident of Gurdaspur, told The Indian Express just minutes after the march began. By the time they reached Karnal bypass, several protesters took a halt and refused to go on the route already announced after the meeting with the police. While police personnel at the spot repeatedly asked them to follow the permitted route, protesters were insistent and gave the police an ultimatum to let them move forward. “This is the biggest highway of the country which has got blocked now. Please follow the given route. Nobody is stopping you,” Additional Commissioner of Police Ajit Kumar Singla appealed to Satnam Singh Pannu, president of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, during the talks. Pannu, however, sought permission to travel towards the Ring Road. “We will go on the road and come back. We want the government to listen to us,” he told Singla, while giving him half an hour to decide on their demand. Ten minutes after a second meeting between the two sides, there was a commotion near the barricades with many climbing atop them to cross over. Less than 500 metres ahead, police blocked the roads on one side to prevent farmers from moving ahead and resorted to teargas and lathi charge, but were soon overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and had to retreat. Protesters were also seen using lathis and stones to chase policemen. Farmers then moved containers and trucks placed on the road by police and the tractor march continued towards Ring Road. It halted again just outside the GTK Road Depot, and the crowd took a U-turn. Minutes later, it was on the Outer Ring Road, marching ahead without any hindrance or police visibility. A sea of tractors lined the road and protesters

After farmers crash barriers to enter Delhi, Home Ministry calls meet

The two-month-old protest by farmer unions, camping at the gates of Delhi to seek the repeal of the new agriculture laws, descended into chaos on Republic Day when hundreds of protesters, breaking away from a planned tractor rally on the city’s outskirts, felled barriers at the borders, clashed with police to enter the Capital, and stormed the Red Fort to unfurl the Nishan Sahib flag.

One protester died when his tractor overturned while ramming a road barrier at ITO and scores were injured, among them many policemen, as mobs resorted to violence and vandalism while forcing their way into the Capital, around the time the Republic Day parade was underway on Rajpath. The parade though remained unaffected by the turn of events elsewhere.

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Wielding sticks and swords, many among the protesters attacked policemen who tried to stop them. At most places, the policemen appeared outnumbered and had to retreat as the protesters advanced. Internet services were downed in several parts of Delhi as authorities called for reinforcements.

Shaken by the unruly scenes, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the umbrella organisation of farmer unions spearheading the protests, distanced itself from the groups that forced their way into the Capital. In a statement, the SKM said: “We thank farmers for the unprecedented participation in today’s Farmers Republic Day Parade. We also condemn and regret the undesirable and unacceptable events that have taken place today and dissociate ourselves from those indulging in such acts.”

“Despite all our efforts, some organisations and individuals have violated the route and indulged in condemnable acts. Anti-social elements had infiltrated the otherwise peaceful movement. We have always held that peace is our biggest strength, and that any violation would hurt the movement,” it said.

As the Union Home Ministry called a meeting to take stock, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, in a Twitter post, said: “Shocking scenes in Delhi. The violence by some elements is unacceptable. It’ll negate goodwill generated by peacefully protesting farmers. Kisan leaders have disassociated themselves & suspended #TractorRally. I urge all genuine farmers to vacate Delhi & return to borders.”

Until Monday night, police and farm leaders had come to an agreement to march from Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur along three designated routes before returning to the protest sites. The agreement, though, was swiftly breached by 8 am Tuesday as farmers at the three sites used tractors to knock down police barricades and start moving towards central Delhi, which was already on high alert on account of Republic Day.

Despite farmers breaching the barricades at Singhu, the largest protest site, the march initially was peaceful, with policemen watching from the sides and the youth also forming a chain to prevent any participant from moving ahead on their own or picking up any sticks from the roadside. However, some in the crowd wanted to take a different direction.

“We have to go beyond the barricades. The decision of our leaders will be final but the police cannot stop us if we want to move ahead. The farmer is the backbone of this nation. If the government will not listen to them, how will it understand the concerns of youth,” 23-year-old Parminder Singh, a resident of Gurdaspur, told The Indian Express just minutes after the march began.

By the time they reached Karnal bypass, several protesters took a halt and refused to go on the route already announced after the meeting with the police. While police personnel at the spot repeatedly asked them to follow the permitted route, protesters were insistent and gave the police an ultimatum to let them move forward.

“This is the biggest highway of the country which has got blocked now. Please follow the given route. Nobody is stopping you,” Additional Commissioner of Police Ajit Kumar Singla appealed to Satnam Singh Pannu, president of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, during the talks. Pannu, however, sought permission to travel towards the Ring Road. “We will go on the road and come back. We want the government to listen to us,” he told Singla, while giving him half an hour to decide on their demand.

Ten minutes after a second meeting between the two sides, there was a commotion near the barricades with many climbing atop them to cross over. Less than 500 metres ahead, police blocked the roads on one side to prevent farmers from moving ahead and resorted to teargas and lathi charge, but were soon overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and had to retreat. Protesters were also seen using lathis and stones to chase policemen.

Farmers then moved containers and trucks placed on the road by police and the tractor march continued towards Ring Road. It halted again just outside the GTK Road Depot, and the crowd took a U-turn. Minutes later, it was on the Outer Ring Road, marching ahead without any hindrance or police visibility.

A sea of tractors lined the road and protesters were walking on foot too — towards a destination which many had not decided on. Once they reached near Kashmere Gate, they again halted to decide where to go. By then, news of some farmers from Ghazipur having entered the Red Fort had spread, and so the crowd of thousands also decided to move towards the historic monument. By 2 pm, hundreds of men were scattered across the gardens outside the fort, and some atop it with several flags.

“This is to show the government that we can do anything — what more can we do to make them hear us now? We can go to any extent to make the government listen to us, but we will also see what our leaders decide,” said Sanampreet, a 20-year-old, who was among the first to enter the fort.

Gurtej, a farmer from Amritsar, said he had an elderly father, wife and two children at home but had been frequenting the Singhu protest site since the beginning. “If the Prime Minister can raise the flag here, why can’t we? We are fighting for our rights — I am here for my children.”

With police personnel outnumbered, many could be seen scrambling for cover as the protesters had a free run of the monument.

Similar scenes were scene at the other two protest sites too. At Tikri, farmers broke through barricades around 9 am and began the rally, with most saying they would follow the rally route and return peacefully. Some, however, insisted the parade would look to move towards Lal Qila and settle there. As protesters reached Nangloi, the situation spiralled into violence, with a part of the crowd breaking through barricades once before noon and — after intermittent clashes with the police for the next two hours which saw teargas shells being repeatedly fired — broke through for a second time.

Police vans were vandalised by protesters who had armed themselves with sticks and shields of police personnel.

At Ghazipur, volunteers and coordinators were stationed on one side, beneath the flyover, which was to be the designated point from where tractors were to begin their forward movement before turning right towards Anand Vihar. However, a set of tractors left the site before the designated time, using alternate paths and heading towards central Delhi by passing through Akshardham instead of following the designated route.

According to coordinators at the site, this break in the gathering at Ghazipur likely occurred because, despite guidelines by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the number of protesters far exceeded their expectations.

Chetan Tiwari (24) was among those who went ahead to ITO, which saw intense violence between police and protesters. He said, “I was on a tractor with a few others. Around 1,000 of us marched ahead. Everybody does not know the routes properly, so we might have gone the wrong way at first. But then the police got violent… first the teargas near Akshardham and then at ITO. After the clashes, some went to Lal Qila. We chose to come back. It would have been peaceful if the police had not misled us.” Chetan is a farmer from Barhalganj in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, who has been at the Ghazipur border since the protests started.

By noon, hundreds of protesters had poured into ITO, not far from the old police headquarters.

Farmers claim they tried to convince police to let them March until Red Fort, but were met with lathi charge and fired teargas.

Police, on the other hand, said farmers had outnumbered personnel and were intent on violence, chasing policemen with weapons and driving tractors rashly. Within half an hour, all four roads at ITO were blocked as farmers assaulted policemen and threw teargas shells back at personnel.

Navneet, a farmer riding a tractor, died when it overturned.

With Aranya Shankar, Sakshi Dayal, Sukrita Baruah and Ashna Butani.