New Delhi: Republic Day turned into rioting day for the national capital Tuesday as thousands of protesting farmers breached barricades, vandalised public property and reached central Delhi, defying the routes fixed for their planned tractor rally.
The Delhi Police had over 50,000 personnel on the ground Tuesday, with over 20,000 deployed on the routes fixed for the tractor rally.
Speaking to ThePrint, sources in the Delhi Police said they could not “anticipate the situation” and blamed the violence on a combination of factors. One, they said, was that they were far outnumbered by the farmers. Another reason, they said, was they had clear instructions to be lenient with the protesters.
Sources in the security establishment also alleged that the police ignored intelligence about certain elements trying to use the rally to create law-and-order problems. However, the Delhi Police sources who spoke to ThePrint denied these allegations.
The force, they said, had handled the situation well given the circumstances, pointing out that none of the personnel had suffered serious injuries.
In an official statement released in the evening, the Delhi Police said it is keeping a close watch on the situation, and “registering cases of violation of lawful directions, rioting, damage to public property and assault on public servant with deadly weapons” with regard to the violence.
The struggle between police and farmers continued throughout the day until late evening, it said, adding that 86 policemen have been reported injured “so far”.
“Several public and private properties have been damaged in this act of vandalism by the rioting mob,” it said. It was subsequently announced that four FIRs have been registered in the matter.
Republic Day, which is marked by a parade in the heart of Delhi, generally entails a strong security cover for the national capital. Apart from the Delhi Police, there were 50 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force, 28 companies of the Border Security Force and 17 companies of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police deployed across the capital, including at the borders. Each company has at least 75 personnel.
On Tuesday, sources in the Delhi Police said, they had to make additional deployments for the tractor rally routes.
“Our personnel were spread over 40 km on those three designated routes, but these farmers never reached there, instead they went to central Delhi — a totally different location, which was unmanned — and that became a major challenge,” a senior police officer said.
As thousands of farmers broke barricades at the Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur borders, deviating from the fixed routes to march towards central Delhi, police personnel were clearly outnumbered.
Several protesters were injured (there is no official data on exactly how many) as police resorted to lathi-charge and lobbing teargas shells to control the mob, but the situation spiralled out of control. One protester — a farmer from Uttarakhand — died as his tractor overturned, but farmer allegations that the accident was the result of a teargas shell hitting him remain unverified.
“We concentrated the majority of our deployment to facilitate the parade on the route that was agreed upon by the farmer leaders. When they deviated from the route and marched towards central Delhi, they could not be stopped,” a second senior police officer said.
“Moreover, the route that they took did not have sufficient deployment to stop so many of them. They outnumbered us,” the officer added.
The protesters, the officer said, numbered “in lakhs, that too on tractors, while we were just a few thousands at one spot at a time”. “Still we managed the situation without any loss of life or serious injuries,” the officer added.
The routes for the tractor rally were announced Sunday, after discussions between farmer representatives and the Delhi Police. Farmers, sources in the police had told ThePrint earlier, were asked to start the rally at 11.30 am, after the conclusion of the Republic Day parade.
At 8.30 am, the first barricades were broken by farmers at Tikri border, demanding that they start the rally before time. The sources said the police had not anticipated even then that the protesters could try to deviate from the routes, in what appears to be an intelligence failure.
According to sources in the security establishment, there were intelligence inputs about the possibility of some elements using the rally to disrupt law and order, which were conveyed to the Delhi Police. The force failed to make prior arrangements to deal with the situation, the sources added.
The sources in the Delhi Police, however, said their intelligence was limited to farmer groups that were in talks with them, adding that they “were not aware of what the others were planning”.
Out of the 50-odd farmer organisations protesting, a third source said, only 90 per cent held talks with them to discuss the routes. The remaining 10 per cent were in disagreement and never came on board, the source added.
It is this 10 per cent that created trouble and encouraged others to follow, completely “hijacking the rally”, the source said.
“Our intelligence was limited to those groups who were engaging with us. The rest never spoke to us. They were always sketchy. They were not on board,” the source added. “These are the groups that hijacked this entire rally.”
Another police source said the farmers “abandoned their leaders”.
‘Orders to not use force’
According to the police, another reason why the situation went out of hand was their “lenient approach” towards the farmers, with the sources noting that they had “strict instructions” to not use force with the protesters.
“Delhi Police had clear instructions to not use excessive force on the farmers,” the third source quoted above said. “This is why the personnel resorted to lathi charge and tear gas shelling at a later stage. The lathi-charge was pursued aggressively only after they entered central Delhi and when many of them were not stopping at borders,” the source added.
“Tear gas was also used to disperse the crowd so that they don’t return. Regular appeals were also being made to the farmers to not resort to violence and return to the borders but they were much more in numbers and had tractors, while our men were on foot,” the source said.
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