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R-Day like no other: Chaos in Delhi as farmers’ tractor parade turns violent, protesters storm Red Fort

Tens of thousands of farmers broke barriers to storm the national capital on Tuesday, their tractor parade to highlight their demands dissolving into unprecedented scenes of anarchy as they fought with police, overturned vehicles and delivered a national insult – hoisting a religious flag from the ramparts of the Red Fort, a privilege reserved for India’s tricolour.

From Rajpath to Red Fort, the day unfolded in scenes of contrasts. One that Indians have seen for seven decades and the other that seared itself into collective memory with its imagery of protesters demanding a repeal of the three farm laws storming the Mughal era monument, the centrepiece of India’s Independence Day celebrations.

Clashes broke out in multiple places, leading to violence in well-known landmarks of Delhi and its suburbs, amid waves of violence that ebbed and flowed through the day. While there were no exact estimates of how many farmers were hurt, Delhi Police officials said 86 of their men were injured through the day. Of these, 41 were injured at the Red Fort.

A protester died after his tractor overturned near ITO, one of the major flashpoints of trouble. In a statement, the police said protesting farmers violated the conditions agreed on for their tractor parade

“The farmers began tractor rally before scheduled time, they also resorted to violence and vandalism,” Delhi Police PRO Eish Singhal said.

“We followed all conditions as promised and did our due diligence but the protest led to extensive damage to public property,” he said.

The statement capped a Republic Day like no other. Farmers, atop tractors, on motorcycles and some on horses, broke barricades to enter the city at least two hours before they were supposed to start the tractor march at noon sanctioned by authorities. Steel and concrete barriers were broken and trailer trucks overturned as pitched battles broke out in several parts of the city.

As tension spiralled, a home ministry official said additional paramilitary troops will be deployed. The exact number of additional troops was not known immediately but officials suggested it could be around 1,500 to 2,000 personnel (about 15 to 20 companies).

The decision was taken at a high-level meeting chaired by Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

Hoping to curb the violence, the ministry also decided to temporarily suspend internet services in parts of Delhi, including Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri and their adjoining areas, for 12 hours from Tuesday noon.

Eclipsing the traditional show of military might at Rajpath, the farmers’ tractor parade that was supposed to be peaceful led to chaos on the streets and never-before scenes – the most perhaps being the sight of protesters clambering up the flagpole at the Red Fort to hoist the ‘Nishaan Sahib’, the Sikh religious flag. Farmer leaders, who have been spearheading the protest at the national capital’s border points to demand a repeal of the farm laws, dissociated themselves from the protests that had taken such an unseemly turn and left in tatters their two-month peaceful movement.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 41 farmer unions, formally called off the tractor parade and appealed to farmers to return to their respective protest sites.

The Morcha also alleged that some “antisocial elements” had infiltrated their otherwise peaceful movement. In a statement, it also condemned and regretted the “undesirable” and “unacceptable” events as the parade turned violent after several groups of farmers deviated from the pre-decided route for the march. “We have always held that peace is our biggest strength, and that any violation would hurt the movement …,” it said. Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav echoed the anguish, saying he felt “ashamed”.

“Being a part of the protest, I feel ashamed of the way things proceeded and I take responsibility of it,” he told a TV channel.

As the day ended, sporadic incidents of violence continued and restless crowds roamed the streets in many places. Some groups of farmers slowly began the journey back to their respective sit-in sites at Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur, but hundreds lingered on.

At the Red Fort, from the ramparts of which the prime minister addresses the nation on Independence Day, thousands of farmer barged into the complex after they were pushed back from ITO. The protesters, many of them young, vocal and aggressive, were removed from the premises and some returned towards the evening. A car was vandalised.

For a while in the day, all roads it seemed headed to the Red Fort. Videos from the spot showed angry crowds, armed with sticks and clubs, chasing the hopelessly outnumbered police personnel. As they ran from the crowds, some policemen fell off the high fort walls. All you could hear are shouts and the sound of sticks hitting each other. Not far away, some uniformed men broke through the barriers in perhaps a desperate attempt to get away.

If police used teargas shells to disperse the restive crowds in some places, hundreds of farmers in ITO were seen chasing them with sticks and ramming their tractors into parked buses.

ITO resembled a war zone with a car being vandalised by angry protesters and shells, bricks and stones littering the wide streets. The tension was mirrored elsewhere in the city too. Police baton charged farmers at Chintamani Chowk in Shahdara when they broke barricades and smashed window panes of cars.

A group of ”Nihangs” (traditional Sikh warriors) clashed with security personnel near Akshardham Temple. And at Nangloi Chowk in west Delhi and at Mukarba Chowk farmers broke cemented barricades and police used tear gas to disperse them. The day began on a celebratory note with farmers chanting “rang de basanti” and “jai jawan jai kisan” crossing the national border on tractors, motorbikes, horses and even cranes for their proposed parade.

Locals stood on both sides of the roads at various locations showering flower petals on the farmers amid drum beats. Standing atop vehicles decked up with flags, protesters could be seen dancing to the tune of patriotic songs such as “Aisa desh hai mera” and “Sare jahan se achcha”. The mood changed soon after. Delhi Police appealed to protesting farmers to not take law into their hands and maintain peace as the violence broke out..

The police also asked the farmers to head back to their pre-decided routes for the tractor parade. Union Minister of Tourism and Culture Prahlad Patel condemned the actions of a section of farmers who entered the Red Fort as part of their tractor rally and said it violated the symbol of dignity of India”s democracy. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said violence is not the solution to any problem. “If anyone gets hurt, the damage will be done to our country. Take back the anti-agricultural laws in national interest,” he said in a tweet in Hindi.

Taking up cudgels on behalf of the farmers, the CPI(M) lashed out at the Centre over the treatment meted out to protesting farmers and said tear gassing and lathicharging them is “unacceptable”. Farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at several Delhi border points, including Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur, since November 28, demanding a complete repeal of three farm laws and a legal guarantee on minimum support price for their crops.

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