Republic Day Violence: Lesson For Posterity Not To Let Peaceful Agitations Go Out Of Hand

The way the 72nd Republic Day was marred by violent protestors in Delhi is unforgivable.

Whoever may be the aggrieved party, whether it is farmers, teachers, lawyers, students, doctors, or any other section of the society, no one has the right to indulge in riots, damage public property, cause grievous injuries and virtually hold the city to ransom.

In this particular case, it was the agitating farmers who caused havoc in the capital city of Delhi. Some of the farmer leaders are now washing their hands off the whole incident, putting the blame on infiltration by anti-social elements. However, they cannot escape the situation by not taking the responsibility of weeding out the
anti-social elements as a proactive measure and ensuring that they are not able to hijack the movement.

It is most humiliating and regrettable for Indians that such a breakdown of law and order took place not only in the capital city but on Republic Day, which is dedicated to the celebration and preservation of the Constitution.

When brute force is used for the fulfillment of one’s demands, one disowns allegiance to the Constitution and commitment to follow the Rule of Law. 

Just imagine the kind of impact it makes on the international canvas that even after more than 70 years of Independence and following constitutional democracy, Indians are not able to express their dissent and protest peacefully in a civilised manner without mayhem and terror. 

How can we take a moral high ground regarding such happenings in other countries when our own people act in this manner? How are we different from a banana republic? 

The way the agitators and lumpen elements virtually laid siege on the Red Fort. the way an agitator climbed on top of the main flag post and tied two flags (one of the farmers and the other a Sikh flag) is indeed quite shameful.

Neighbouring Pakistan was quick to play up the whole situation on television and give it the twist of ‘flag hoisting’ at the Red Fort.

The Red Fort is a World Heritage site and a national symbol of India’s freedom and democracy, a place where every year, the Prime Minister of the country unfurls the national flag on Independence Day reminding and rededicating the country to its freedom, sovereignty, and integrity.

The national sentiments of all Indians must have been hurt to see the desecration of a  national monument like the Red Fort, which should have had multi-tier security arrangements to ensure that no such defilement takes place. 

The Opposition is well within its rights to question the Centre how it had not been able to protect the sanctity of the Red Fort. 

Police personnel were clearly outnumbered and were in no position to counter the large masses of agitators and had to virtually flee and jump down deep trenches to save their own lives.

Red Fort, a historic place, should be a highly protected site, especially since it has already been a target of a terrorist attack in 2000. 

The farmers reportedly wanted to vent their anger by a show of strength. But how is damaging public toilets at the Red Fort and damaging the railings and ticket office show the strength?

The police were under strict orders not to use unnecessary force and therefore despite grave provocation, they maintained restraint and acted more in self defence. 

The agitators gathered in large number with tractors in different parts of Delhi and threw stones at the police, broke barricades, damaged and overturned vehicles,  menacingly waved and ran displaying swords, iron rods, lathis, and chased policemen with tractors and hit them with lathis. They had to run to save their lives. Several hundred policemen are said to have been injured.

To see policemen running for cover in any situation does not build the confidence of the common masses, rather, it creates a sense of fear and helplessness.

The fundamental duty of any government is to save its citizens and if the protectors or the police themselves have to run for their lives, then the government has failed in its fundamental duty.

No wonder Delhi Police personnel are planning their own march to highlight their plight and protest against the agitation.

Police lobbed tear gas and resorted to lathi-charge at many places to disperse the violent surging crowds, but were not able to control the massive number of armed agitators.

The Opposition, particularly the Congress, has got an opportunity to put the blame squarely on the Home Minister, who is responsible for maintaining law and order and Delhi Police for failing to control the violence.

Interestingly, Congress also blames the Centre for maligning and defaming the farmers for the violence, which ut said was caused by anti social elements who had infiltrated the ranks of the farmers.

Though not directly Congress seems to be hinting that the BJP-led Central government stands to benefit if the farmers’ agitation gets a bad name. Why did the government not take any proactive steps to remove the criminal elements, which infiltrated the farmers’ camps just to malign it? 

The Opposition alleges that the violators were allowed to have a field day at the Red Fort ( in front of TV cameras for the world to see) with the police not taking any action, just so that they get a bad name.

As violence raged on in the capital, it is only following a meeting in the afternoon at the residence of the Home Minister that reinforcements in the form of extra battalions of para-military forces were called in.

The question which clearly cannot be avoided is that the farmers’ tractor rally on Republic Day was a scheduled programme announced many days ago with full knowledge of the government. Despite the fact that farmer leaders had promised the Supreme Court and the Delhi Police that they will be peaceful and abide by the fixed routes allowed for them, the central government and police authorities cannot be so naïve and innocent that they were taken completely by surprise when the agitators took different routes and became violent.

Once it was known that thousands of farmers with tractors would be moving through Delhi and that too on Republic Day where large masses are gathered on Rajpath and VIP movement also takes place, both Delhi Police and central government should have known that this was going to be one of the most unprecedented challenges to be faced as far as security and law and order was concerned in the capital.

Instead of paramilitary forces being called in after the event, they should have been called in before. A large number of preventive arrests should have taken place to keep away the anti social elements. Required law and order and security measures should have been undertaken to see that no untoward incidents take place near important and sensitive installations, including the Red Fort.

Serious intelligence failure has definitely taken place as some farmer groups declared openly that they would not follow the agreed routes, but perhaps this information
was not given due importance by the authorities. 

If there was a conspiracy on a large scale and the agitators had pre planned to intrude into the Red Fort then at least the authorities seem not to have been aware of it, which further stresses the need for the government to bolster its intelligence units.

While some farmers’ unions have withdrawn from the agitation now and are packing off let’s hope that this incident will always serve as a reminder to never let peaceful agitations within the country get out of hand. The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi’s methods of non-violent protest or ‘satyagraha’ should be the ideal.  

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