Editorial: A sad day for the Republic
The leadership of farmer organisations, which has congratulated itself for conducting peaceful and orderly protests ever since the farm bills were passed, cannot now distance themselves from the madness.
The violence and clashes in New Delhi wreaked by farmers protesting against the controversial farm laws need one unequivocal reaction: unsparing condemnation. It is a crying shame that thousands of farmers could have broken away from the routes approved for their tractor rally, clashed with police, destroyed public property and stormed the premises of the Red Fort on Republic Day, How exactly this happened and what, if anything, could have been done to prevent this disgraceful act of lawlessness is something that will take a little more time to examine.
But the leadership of farmer organisations, which has congratulated itself for conducting peaceful and orderly protests ever since the farm bills were passed, cannot now distance themselves from the madness. The leaders must take moral responsibility for what occurred. For one, it was their job to ensure that the rally adhered to pre-approved routes. And for another, it is simply absurd to suggest that this was the handiwork of a small rogue group. Quite clearly, thousands of farmers were involved in heading towards Red Fort and clashing with police, suggesting that the movement has been badly compromised by anti-social elements.
The popular reaction to protests is often fashioned by symbols. And the images that have been captured by video cameras and mobile phones include those of people brandishing swords, carrying firearms, clambering atop the Red Fort, and planting their flag on its ramparts. What such images are likely to do is to end, or at least significantly reduce, the groundswell of sympathy for the protesting farmers, who braved the cold at the Delhi borders and maintained the kind of solidarity that won both hearts and political support in many parts of the country. In one day, all this is now in danger of unravelling.
At the time of writing, the immediate task for the Delhi administration is to ensure that a firm but peaceful end is put to the continuing face-off in ITO, Ghaziabad and other parts of Delhi. The leadership of the farmer organisations must also do its bit to defuse the situation and help restore normalcy. Organisations such as the Sikh Force for Justice (SFJ), a UK-headquartered secessionist group, have no place in a movement against certain reforms in the agrarian sector.
From all accounts, the tractor rally had two very distinct characters. On the one hand, there was the vast majority that carried Indian flags, sang patriotic songs and raised slogans such as ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’. On the other, there was an ugly mob, which appears to have planned to plunge the Capital into chaos. It is important to ensure that the strong arm of the law is directed only against the latter.
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