Indian media has been raging against the protesting farmers after the Red Fort incident, which saw the previously peaceful farmers storm the Red Fort and hoist the Khalsa flag called the Nishan Sahib (Sikh religious symbol) in Delhi. However, new information suggests that the incident might not have happened against the wishes of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Numerous media outlets have portrayed the protests as violent, while overlooking any other actors involved, terming the protest as ‘riots’ the farmers as a ‘mob’.
Thousands of Indian farmers began pouring into the capital on Republic Day, in an attempt to revert Prime Minister Modi’s new farm laws. January 26, 2021 marked over 60 days of the ongoing protests, as farmers mobilized their tractors to revolt against the government’s deregulations plans.
New Delhi showed sights of chaos and violence when thousands of farmers were tear-gassed and baton-charged as they broke down police barricades amid India’s Republic Day celebrations. Farmer unions have held eleven rounds of talks with the central government so far, but all have been futile. Modi’s administration had previously offered to temporarily suspend the new laws but the farmers state they will settle for nothing short of complete revocation.
Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) revealed that they were expecting close to 200,000 tractors at the ‘tractor rally’. “We are about to make history. Never before in history have the people of this Republic been part of a parade of this nature on the Republic Day.”
How did the police allow protestors to not only enter a monumental fort but to also hoist a religious flag from its ramparts? Several onlookers saw police officials peacefully sitting on the sidelines, watching protestors storm the Red Fort. As the protesters entered the Red Fort, India media showed videos of the police sitting nearby and making no effort to stop the trespassing protesters. In interviews, the people within the premises of the fort told the media that the gates to the fort were open and police did not stop them from entering.
Furthermore, one of the people who have been accused of inciting farmers is the actor Deep Sidhu, who live-streamed the hosting of the Khalsa flag on social media as video evidence shows farmers trying to dissuade him from doing so. Deep Sidhu had previously been banned from taking a stage at the protests due to accusations of inciting protesters and going against the decisions of the SKM, the steering committee for the alliance of more than 40 farmers’ unions. Yoginder Yadav, a veteran leftist activist and political strategist, accused Sidhu of having incited farmers a day before the incident.
According to plans, the farmers’ were to peacefully lead a tractor rally on the outskirts of Delhi, on a predetermined route. The night before the 26th of January, Sidhu incited farmers to lead a rally beyond the outskirts and towards the centre of Delhi. Moreover, only a minuscule segment of the farmers diverged away from pre-decided routes, and these diversions too occurred in only certain areas in the country. Popular sources of information hold that the movement as a whole turned violent, when in fact, 90% of farmers protested peacefully, following predefined routes, said a farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal. According to the SKM the tractors that first diverted from the route were from the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC), one of the unions in the protest.
The KMSC has repeatedly been accused by other unions and the SKM of taking a pro-BJP stance and diverting from the collective demands of other unions. The SKM condemned the storming of the Red Fort, “despite all our efforts, some organizations & individuals violated route & indulged in condemnable acts. Anti-social elements had infiltrated the otherwise peaceful movement. We’ve always held that peace is our biggest strength and any violation would hurt the movement,” read an official statement of the SKM. Furthermore, the BJP government provided the KMSC with a special enclosure during the protest, and the KMSC’s protest camp was away from all other unions on the other side of police lines.
Sidhu too has had links with the BJP, he had campaigned for a candidate of the BJP in Punjab and had meetings with the topmost leadership of the party, including Amit Shah; who is seen as the mastermind behind Modi’s brand of BJP.
But the BJP has reacted fiercely against the incident, calling it a disrespect to the national tricolor flag. Narendra Modi on Sunday said, “The country was saddened to see the national flag being insulted”.
On Thursday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah “must resign”. CM Banerjee added that the person who hoisted the flag at the Red Fort is “BJP ka chamcha [stooge]”. “He has pictures with Amit Shah. He has pictures with PM Modi. This is BJP’s plan. PM Modi and Home Minister must resign.”
On Saturday, Aam Admi Party (AAP) Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh alleged that the storming of Red Fort was a “planned event of BJP”, for which its leaders should be “booked for sedition”. Addressing a news conference, Singh also alleged that actor Deep Sidhu, who has been named in an FIR in connection with the Red Fort incident, is “close to the Prime Minister, Union Home Minister and BJP MP Sunny Deol”.
This would not be the first time that the BJP would be doing something like this, the party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) the ideological organization behind the party, have plated violence in the past to justify the need to retaliate with violence. BJP has been accused of inciting and planting violence in the Gujrat Riots, and the RSS has been accused of having links to the Samjhota Express bombings.
It is likely that the incident and the subsequent media condemnation of the protesters were part of the ruling party’s strategy to turn the popular opinion against the farmers. Given that the Indian media is notoriously pro-BJP; the possibility does not become too unlikely.