Rajat Sharma

With the entry of politicians, farmer leaders now stand at the crossroads

akbThe image of a senior Delhi Police officer bloodied after a sword attack by a protester on Friday at Delhi’s Singhu border has caused nationwide consternation. This happened three days after the January 26 mayhem during which anti-national elements disrespected our national flag at the Red Fort, and speeding tractors and swords were used by protesters to injure and maim policemen.

The brave police officer, Alipur Station House Officer Pradeep Paliwal was attacked with a sword on Friday by Ranjeet Singh, a resident of Nawanshahr, Punjab, who was part of a violent mob. The immediate provocation was a pitched battle that took place among residents of nearby villages who were demanding that the protesters should leave Singhu border. This led to stoning from both sides.

SHO Pradeep Paliwal along with his men had gone there to control the situation. He was trying to pacify the mob, when rioters came out of a tent brandishing swords, crossed the barricades and attacked police. Ranjit Singh attacked Paliwal with the sword several times, the police officer’s hand suffered severe bruises, and blood began to ooze from his arm towards his palm. Paliwal told India TV reporter Kumar Sonu that the attack was instigated by two farm leaders Satnam Singh Pannu and Sarwan Singh Pandher, who were present at the spot.
Now, there should not be an iota of doubt that the violence is being micro-managed by self-proclaimed farmer leaders like Pannu and Pandher, who are still part of the top leadership of farmers. These two leaders are already facing charges of sedition because of the January 26 Red Fort incidents. If other farm leaders consider Pannu and Pandher as guilty of crimes, the question arises, why these groups have been allowed to erect tents with other protesting farmers?
The attack on SHO Paliwal was not an isolated incident. There were attacks on policemen at different places on Friday. The SHO of Narela was also attacked with swords, but he was saved in time by his colleagues from the marauding mob. The SHO returned to duty after getting first aid. An IPS officer was also injured in the stoning by the mob.
Tension began when more than 200 villagers from nearby areas arrived at the protest site at around noon, holding placards and national flag. They demanded that the protesters must leave the area. After shouting slogans, the crowd broke through the police cordon and entered the protest site. The protesting farmers retaliated with swords and sticks, and police had to resort to lathi-charge and firing of tear gas shells. The villagers were finally pushed out by police and peace was restored.
India TV reporters spoke to several old women among the local villagers who complained that womenfolk in the villages were unable to freely move around for the last two months because of eve-teasing and lewd comments by some of the anti-social elements among the squatting farmers. If such incidents occur in the guise of farmers’ agitation, nobody with a sane mind will tolerate such activities. These villagers had been providing water, milk, fruit and vegetables to the protesting farmers for the last two months, but now they are angry and want the farmers to leave.
There are reports that farmer leaders are pleading with their supporters not to leave the ‘dharna’ sites because their agitation will lose its steam. Media persons are not being allowed to go near the tents with cameras. There are reports that most of the tents are now vacant and the supporters have left for their homes in Punjab. Our reporter Vijaylaxmi was stopped from using her camera when she went to several tents. She cross-checked with local vendors who confirmed that most of the farmers have left after the January 26 mayhem.
A similar situation has occurred at Delhi’s Tikri border, where villagers from nearby areas staged protest and demanded that the farmers should leave the area by Sunday, otherwise the locals from 36 villages would retaliate. Here too, women from villages complained that there had been cases of eve-teasing by some anti-social elements, who openly consume liquor in the evening and cause nuisance. The same is the situation in Shahjahanpur on Haryana-Rajasthan border, where local villagers have been consistently demanding that the farmers must now leave.
The situation was different at UP gate in Ghazipur, where Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait continues to sit on ‘dharna’. Farmers from western UP have decided at a mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar that they would rejoin the protest at Ghazipur. Visuals of Rakesh Tikait in tears on Thursday evening have mobilized the farmers in western UP belt, who have come forward to sit with the farmer leader.
On Friday, Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh spoke to Rakesh Tikait over phone and extended his support. His son, Jayant Chaudhary went to Ghazipur and met Tikait. Aam Aadmi Party leader Manish Sisodia also went to Ghazipur and met Tikait in a show of solidarity.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addressed a press conference, where he warned that the farmers’ protests, if not resolved, would spread to other cities and will cause instability. He alleged that the government was trying to “terrorize” protesting farmers and crush the agitation. Rahul Gandhi repeated his earlier charge that the Prime Minister was working at the behest of five businessmen, and on their advice, he had resorted to demonetization, imposed GST and now the three farm laws.
Among the politicians, the voice of sanity was heard from Punjab chief minister Captain Amrinder Singh who appealed to farmer leaders to attend meetings with the Centre to resolve the dispute over farm laws. Capt Amrinder Singh said, “the agitation has now lost its steam” due to the violence on January 26, and warned that if the problem was not solved it could cause fresh unrest in Punjab, which will suit Pakistan’s agenda.
Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal alleged that BJP was sending its workers in the guise of local villagers to out the farmers from the protest sites. Badal instructed his party cadre to rush to Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders to bolster the strength of the protesting farmers and counter the challenge from BJP.
I have watched the remarks made by all these political leaders. It appears that political leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Sukhbir Singh Badal, are presently more worried compared to the farmer leaders because of the waning support to the farmers’ agitation. They are worried over large number of farmers deserting the protest sites on their own. This is the reason why these political leaders are trying to mobilize their own party workers to join the farmers’ agitation.
So long as the farmers’ agitation was in full steam, and the government was involved in discussions, these leaders were happy over the political harvest that they were expecting, but now they find a political win slipping through their fingers, because of waning support. It would be better if Rahul Gandhi listened to his own party leader Capt Amrinder Singh’s views on farmers’ agitation, but he seems to have the least inclination to do so.
As for the farm leaders, gone are the days when they were stiffly resisting any attempt by any political leader to come up on their dais. They had consciously kept politicians at bay. But on Friday, with the arrival of politicians from different parties at the protest sites, their promise of keeping the farmers’ agitation free from politics, has now vanished into thin air. The farmers’ agitation has now lost its sheen. The violence on Republic Day and the disrespect to the national flag, has made the common public lose their trust in the farmers’ movement. The farmer leaders today stand at the crossroads. They do not know which path to follow.

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