Delhi/Chandigarh: Several farmer leaders have blamed Tuesday’s Red Fort breach on actor Deep Sidhu, a known Bhindranwale supporter, and gangster-turned-activist Lakha Sidhana, who have been camping with protesting farmers at the Singhu border in Delhi since November.
The farmers’ planned Republic Day tractor rally erupted in chaos Tuesday as protesters defied the route map finalised by the Delhi Police in consultation with farmer leaders, and broke through barriers to reach the heart of the national capital.
Clashes ensued between the protesters and police personnel, and one farmer died as his tractor reportedly overturned after crashing through a barrier.
At one point, hundreds of protesters arrived at Red Fort and hoisted the Kisan union and Khalsa flags on its lawns. Sidhu conducted a Facebook Live from the site and later also addressed the protesters gathered at the site. Sidhu and his supporters raised slogans like “Raaj karega Khalsa (the Khalsa will rule)” and “Bhagat Singh teri soch te… pehra diyaange thok ke… (Bhagat Singh we will guard your legacy)”.
Sidhana, however, was not seen with him.
Both have been accused of inciting youths at the Singhu border Monday night amid resentment about the route map, but Sidhu and Sidhana have defended themselves in public statements.
In the wake of the clashes, the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, a group of farmer unions leading the agitation, called off the tractor rally with immediate effect Tuesday evening. In a statement, it condemned the “undesirable and unacceptable events that have taken place today” and blamed them on “anti-social elements” who “infiltrated” their “peaceful movement”.
The Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC), a farmer organisation that openly admitted to breaking through the barriers, dissociated itself from the Red Fort incident as well.
Whose idea was Red Fort?
The violence Tuesday started after the route map announced for the tractor rally led to resentment among some protesters and caused a divide between the farmer unions protesting against the farm laws.
Speaking to ThePrint Monday, some farmer leaders had expressed objection to the fact that the route restricted them to the outskirts of Delhi. They said they wanted to be able to take the rally through the capital’s arterial Outer Ring Road.
News footage from the protest site at the Delhi-Haryana border at Singhu Monday night showed hundreds of youths take over the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha’s stage, demanding permission to drive their tractors to the Outer Ring Road in Delhi.
This happened at the end of the day’s proceedings on the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha’s stage at the Singhu border, where the parade routes were announced.
The protesting youths got on to the stage and took the microphone from those controlling it, and started making own announcements. They demanded that the farmer union leaders be called to the stage to assure them that their demand will be met.
However, no farmer leader reached the stage. Instead, Lakha Sidhana, who has been agitating at the Singhu border along with his own group of young followers, reached the stage and sought to pacify the youth. He promised them that they would be allowed to parade on the Outer Ring Road, and suggested that they follow the KMSC tractors.
The youth continued to make announcements from the stage, saying the Kisan union and the Khalsa flags should adorn all tractors participating in the rally. Sidhu addressed the protesters too. However, going by the footage, no announcement regarding any plan to reach the Red Fort was made from the stage.
Several farmer leaders distanced themselves from the violence Tuesday and accused Sidhu and Sidhana of seeking to damage the farmers’ campaign from the start.
“Deep Sidhu and Lakha Sidhana have tried to damage our protest. They incited the youth to take over the agitation and give it a different colour. We are marching on the route finalised for us but we encountered these agitated youth who wanted us to change our route,” Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president of the BKU (Ugrahan), said while talking to ThePrint.
“Our supporters, however, refused. Now, we need to get our cadres back together, consolidate them and decide what next,” he added.
“I don’t know what is Sidhu’s and Sidhana’s politics and who they are working for. It is surprising that despite all these arrangements (clampdown by police) Sidhu managed to reach the Red Fort with his supporters. We need to assess all this,” Ugrahan said.
Boota Singh Burjgill, the president of BKU (Dakaunda), said Sidhu has been creating trouble from the beginning. “I am in the parade that started from the Tikri border but I have heard that Deep Sidhu hoisted the flag at the Red Fort. He has been trying to create trouble from day one. We are following the route we announced,” he added.
Gurnam Singh Chaduni, president of BKU Haryana, said Sidhu seemed like a “government agent” and that he had been “inciting” the protesters for several days. “The protesters who went with him today were told that they are going to the Ring Road but instead he took them to the Red Fort,” he said in a video message.
Harmeet Singh Kadian, the president of yet another BKU faction, also alleged the involvement of central government agencies. “A faction of farmers, who are not part of the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, started their parade much before time. And police put DTC buses and other vehicles in their way — so that the ‘public property’ can be damaged conveniently and captured on camera,” he said in a statement. “And this faction of farmers led by Deep Sidhu gets access to the Red Fort Building on Republic Day? Shouldn’t the Home Minister resign? Can you imagine, this can happen without the involvement of agencies?”
Sidhu, who received criticism on social media for the Red Fort incident, subsequently issued a video on his Facebook page, describing his act as “symbolic”.
“We did not make any separatist announcements there. Our act should not be seen as anti-national. We raised our flags there without touching the Tricolour. This only shows the unity in our diversity,” he said.
Speaking to the media Monday, Sidhana said he “did not go to address the youth on the morcha’s stage when it was taken over by them”.
“I got a call from Dallewal (BKU Sidhupur leader) to go to the stage and handle the situation. Please don’t play this out as the protest movement getting divided,” he added.
The KMSC, whose leaders Swaran Singh Pandher and Satnam Singh Pannu openly declared that their supporters would not follow the route set for those sitting at the Singhu border, distanced itself from the Red Fort affair.
“We did exactly what we had said. We differed from the union’s routes and instead we broke barriers and reached the Ring Road,” Pannu said. “We did our parade and are now back at the Singhu border,” he added, saying his group had no plans to go to the Red Fort. “I have no idea who went to the Red Fort. Our supporters were not among them,” he added.
Who are Sidhu and Sidhana?
Sidhu was a close associate of actor Sunny Deol when the BJP MP was campaigning in Gurdaspur in 2019, but the latter disassociated himself from him last month.
On Monday too, the MP reiterated that he and his family has nothing to do with Sidhu.
आज लाल क़िले पर जो हुआ उसे देख कर मन बहुत दुखी हुआ है, मैं पहले भी, 6 December को ,Twitter के माध्यम से यह साफ कर चुका हूँ कि मेरा या मेरे परिवार का दीप सिद्धू के साथ कोई संबंध नही है।
— Sunny Deol (@iamsunnydeol) January 26, 2021
When the protest at the Singhu border began in November-end, Sidhu was banned from speaking on the morcha’s official stage because he was accused of trying to deviate the focus of the agitation from the three contentious acts.
Sidhu, who has been openly eulogising Sikh separatist militant Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, continued to camp at the Singhu border, addressing his followers through his social media posts.
On Monday night, Sidhu was called to take the stage by the youths who took over. “The institutions of this nation have been eroded and now they are trying to erode our thinking as well,” he said. Sidhu mentioned Bhindranwale in his speech but it did not elicit much of a response from the audience. He asked the youths to remain patient and keep the agitation united.
A five-member committee of youngsters that included Sidhu and Sidhana was then formed to talk to farmer union leaders about their concerns.
Once a dreaded gangster, Sidhana is now a social activist in Punjab who has been raising his voice over several issues. He and Sidhu became actively involved with the farmers’ protest when it started in Punjab in September.
Once the agitation reached Delhi, he was also initially banned by union leaders from speaking on the stage. But, after some days, Sidhana was “accepted” into the movement by some union leaders as he had considerable sway over the young protesters. His team, ThePrint has learnt, was also tasked with keeping a watch on any troublemaker who might enter the protest site.