Storming of the Bastille marks a crucial turning point in the history of French Revolution. The temptation is strong to compare the recent ‘Storming of the Red Fort’ with it in the context of the farmers’ agitation but this would be very unwise if not outright childish. As the events unfolded they were viewed by millions. There is no scope of claiming that the footage was doctored or that the breathless reporters—many of them now charged with sedition—were provoking and encouraging the rowdies. Those who assaulted the Red Fort have been identified as habitual mischief makers, opportunist hangers-on to the leaders in power and pathological selfie-takers.
The manner in which Deep Sidhu surfaced and disappeared raises many unanswered questions about infiltration of agents provocateurs in the peacefully picketing assembly of farmers. Investigation of crimes is the prerogative of police and intelligence agencies and no useful purpose is served by speculation about the protectors and patrons of the hooligans who had conspired to tarnish the two-month long agitation against farm laws with a black brush. This shouldn’t inhibit us from asking questions about the failure of intelligence and the utter lack of preparedness to control crowds at strategically sensitive locations like the ITO/Delhi Police Headquarters.
It must be admitted that on this day of strife, the Delhi Police acted with great restraint, didn’t bite the bait and used minimal force even when reckless tractor drivers used their vehicles as weapons to demolish barriers/roadblocks threatening the policemen posted there. Now those who rule over us are busy taking credit that it was they who had issued instructions to the cops on ground not to resort to measures harsher than lathi-charges and firing of tear gas. Be that as may, lathis wielded with vengeance can strike terror and trigger stampedes. But this isn’t the place to keep praising or condemning the cops.
The Lieutenant Governor is in charge of law and order in the Capital who is directly responsible to the Home Ministry. If the credit for damage-control is claimed by the farsighted higher-ups, the political masters, then it is they who must cope with the blame for failures and mishaps before the Red Fort was vandalised. Nor can the governments of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana wash their hands clean. The run-up to the tractor parade was marked by efforts to deter kissing with water cannons, tear gas and lathis. Haryana CM ML Khattar had once again demonstrated his inability to manage dissent or engage in meaningful dialogue with protestors. UP CM Yogi Adityanath enjoys a strongman image and was surely unhappy about not being able to stop the long march through his domain.
There are important lessons to be drawn by the aftermath. The large majority of farmers camping at the borders were shell-shocked. The leaders realised that a fringe that had infiltrated their ranks had hijacked the tractor parade and were on rampage. They knew that they would be blamed for ‘failure to control followers’ and the helpless government irritated by the long stalemate in talks would use this as an opportunity to hit back hard. And, this is exactly what happened in the night that followed. Policemen descended on the farmers’ camps, electricity and water were cut off and ultimatums were issued to clear out at once.
It is here that the plot thickens and becomes murkier. Hundreds of ‘locals’ suddenly appeared on the scene and took charge of accomplishing the task of driving the agitators out. Many disturbing questions arise. How did these vigilantes pierce the police pickets and barriers to vent their anger suddenly? Why did the police remain mute spectators as the ‘citizen cops’ took law in their hands? There was stone-pelting and the police still didn’t intervene. Was it because a fire-breathing MLA of the BJP had issued a stern warning to the protestors to ‘vacate’ the land they were occupying? The cops had apparently read the weathervane well. Like they had done at the time of the Delhi riots.
Internet was cut and the media cowered anticipating a crackdown but images already shared on social media and the word of mouth were enough to turn the tide of sentiments. The morale of the farmers revived, Rakesh Tikait wiped his tears as he saw the crowds swelling once again. Let us not digress.
This is not about the Farmers’ Movement, the justice or otherwise of their demands. Our primary concern is the cynical use of police for partisan political ends and the dangerous emerging trend of diabolically deploying ‘citizen cops’ (read lumpen elements as vigilantes) to discipline dissenters—all those who fail to fall in line. From gau raksha to fighting ‘love jihad’, these desi ‘patriotic’ Proud Boys appear to have been given a licence to enforce law and maintain order. Police routinely turn a blind eye to violations of laws committed by these storm-troopers.
Pushpesh Pant email@example.com
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University