Before the Republic Day mayhem in the streets of the national capital, they were some unknown faces in the congregation of protesting farmers the previous evening, demanding that leaders of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) come on the stage and answer questions about the route agreed upon in consultation with Delhi Police for the tractor rally. However, subsequently, known faces like Lakhbir Singh Sidhana alias Lakha Sidhana (40), gangster-turned-politician and president of the Malwa Youth Federation, and Punjabi film actor Deep Sidhu, who had campaigned for the BJP’s Sunny Deol in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, addressed the crowd.
Deep Sidhu said, “Our leadership is under pressure. We shouldn’t put more pressure on them. But we can ask them to make a decision that is acceptable to all. They should come on the stage. If they don’t come, then we will take a decision. You all should decide who should take the decision in that case.”
“Thousand of youths want to take the Ring Road. The Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee has already decided to take the Ring Road. They are protesting ahead of us, so our tractors will be behind them. So if anyone wants to go on Ring Road, they can follow the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee… What is the issue then? You should cool down,” Sidhana told the assembly of rich and broker-influenced farmers following the speech by Deep Sidhu.
Some “fringe elements”, who took over the SKM stage at the Singhu border for hours on 25 January night, gave the call, “Our route, Ring Road.” For about 6 h — 6 PM to midnight — a group of youths took over the stage to oppose the route SKM leaders and Delhi Police had mutually agreed upon. Some Punjabi web channels and a few social media accounts broadcast their protest live.
While Deep Sidhu was at Red Fort on 26 January, Sidhana’s presence could not be confirmed. In a video broadcast on social media following the Red Fort incident, where the Sikh insignia was hoisted on several poles, Deep Sidhu said it was the outcome of the agitation that had been going on for several months. He said the violence could not be attributed to an individual.
Deep Sidhu said the Nishan Sahib and Kisan Union flags were hoisted “in a flow of emotions”. “I had warned that our leaders had taken a decision which is again the youth’s sentiments. When the SKM was asked to make a decision that is acceptable to all, they rejected this request. How can Deep Sidhu instigate such a huge crowd… You will not find a single video of me leading anyone to Red Fort. Everyone was swayed by the moment,” he said.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), by the way, had summoned Sidhu and his brother, Mandeep Singh, among others this month in connection with a case filed against the Sikhs For Justice.
Courts acquitted Sidhana in several heinous cases before he contested the 2012 assembly election, unsuccessfully, as a candidate of the People’s Party of Punjab. That was Manpreet Singh Badal’s party. Sidhana is seen as instrumental in connecting the youth to the farmers’ agitation.
As provocative speeches went on, the crowd of mostly young people at Singhu raised slogans of “Our Route, Ring Road”, “Parade Road, Ring Road”.
Many in the crowd alleged that farmer leaders had done reneged on their original call for a Republic Day parade in Delhi.
Farmer union leaders did not respond to the gathering. It was only after the crowd dispersed that some farmer union activists took over the stage and started raising slogans.
Dr Sukhpreet Singh Udoke, a Sikh writer, who was present on the stage, said, “Farmer unions first gave a call to reach Parliament on Republic Day. Then they revised the call to just entering Delhi. Then they scaled it down to Ring Road. But, in their agreement with Delhi Police, they even stepped back from Ring Road. The youth were agitated by this. We asked them to cool down and follow the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee if they wanted to take the Ring Road, while others could stick to the route decided by the SKM.”
On 25 January, the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) had announced its decision to march on Ring Road.
Insiders say that with the KMSC protest site near the SKM site at Singhu, protesters at the border joined the march towards Ring Road. By the time SKM began its march on the designated route, many protesters were already on their way to Ring Road.
KMSC leaders said they had no plans to go to Red Fort. Groups of protesters, however, decided to take the turn to Red Fort from Majnu Ka Tilla (behind the Delhi University campus), and the situation went out of hand, they said.