31 January 2021
Really! I do feel for the farmers…and Punjab, which is usually perceived through standard clichés — balle balle, bhangra, butter chicken and Baisakhi — while the state’s myriad problems lie unresolved. Now, the ‘Punjab issue’ has hit the headlines, particularly after the violence that took place on India’s 72nd Republic Day. But so many days later, citizens are still in the dark. So far, we have theories, accusations, anger and frustration. But no credible answers. Who does one believe? Which version is the more authentic one? Was there just one villain or several or none? The ‘rogue tractor’ — what was that act of craziness all about? And the guy who clambered up a pole to hoist the Nishan Sahib flag — who put him up to it? Too many contrary theories floating around, and as it generally happens, you believe the one that suits your thinking and politics.
A Sikh friend from Chandigarh was so anguished by what happened, she called to say, “Sikhs stand for valour and bravery. How can they be rioting?” Precisely!
There is one thing though that everybody agrees on — the storming of the Red Fort is unforgivable and the biggest blot on the farmers’ protests. We are unlikely to ever forget that deeply disturbing and highly shocking act that severely marred January 26 — a day one associates with national pride, triumph and celebration. Ironically, all those glued to the one news channel that had monopoly rights over the telecast of the parade had no clue what was going on simultaneously not so far away from Rajpath. Doordarshan was dutifully showing them inspiring visuals of energetic schoolchildren dancing and singing lustily, or focusing on the awesome Air Force display in which women pilots (Bhawana Kanth and Swati Rathore) thrilled the cheering crowds.
But less than ten kilometres away, utter mayhem had been unleashed! And here’s the thing — nobody knew! Nobody, that is, but a couple of insiders, who had apparently tipped off media colleagues. By the time images started to flash on different screens, disbelief and horror rapidly replaced the euphoria of watching the grand march past.
Nothing made sense — where did the tractors suddenly come from? Who diverted the route of the protest? Why did nobody report this movement of tractors to authorities?
There is something that’s definitely black in the lentils. The real story of Punjab’s abject decline from being one of the most prosperous states of India to its present pathetic low is being buried under staged and politically instigated acts of defiance. Punjab has been reduced to Haryana’s poor cousin. A report says the average Haryanvi is 1.5 times richer than the average Punjabi. Battling drug abuse, rising unemployment and a loss of morale, Punjab is in denial. Chief minister Amarinder Singh, for all his bombast and machismo, has not been able to haul his state out of the ditch.
The revolting turn of events on Republic Day, allegedly led by a publicity-seeking actor called Deep Sidhu, shows how easy it is to stir up trouble and manipulate optics. It is important to know who is behind this treacherous act. Those anti-national rowdies were not acting alone. They showed unusual gumption and daring when they stormed police barricades. Could they have done so without the tacit support of someone very powerful, someone, who’d handle the messy aftermath?
There will always be conflicting versions about which group did what. We may never know. But at least, let us not abandon our own common sense and damn the wrong people. There was a method behind the madness. It was well orchestrated by shrewd tacticians playing for high stakes. But who? And if it was really and truly nothing but a few enraged farmers taking their protest to the next level on their own, let us pay equal attention to the reason for that rage. Why did the government not consult farmers’ unions and state governments before pushing the contentious farm laws through Parliament via a voice vote? It was this high-handedness that upped the rancour meter.
Our intelligence agencies have a lot of explaining to do in this case — it’s incredible that nobody was aware of the movement of tractors.
Tractors! Not tricycles. Not much bheja required for spotting these lumbering vehicles moving towards one of the most protected, high risk sites in the capital. Yet it happened! Hmmm — ajeeb kahani. Very ajeeb, indeed! Thousands of policemen, anti-riot squads, and CPRF could not prevent a few hundred rioters from barging into the Red Fort! Socho bhi — aisa ho sakta hai?