The Republic Day Parade is the most important State ritual of the Republic of India when India reaffirms its commitment to democracy and the Constitution. Armed forces reaffirm their allegiance to the civilian authority and government honours the martyrs of the republic and award citizens for their notable contribution to the nation.
To defile or threaten to harm the Republic Day's sanctity is a direct assault on the very foundation of the republic. This is what we witnessed on January 26 when armed protestors broke their promise and stormed the national capital while carrying out the infamous ‘tractor parade’.
The images of sword-wielding anarchist trying to mow down police personnel with tractors, beating women constables and assaulting police and bystanders have marred the Republic Day. The very idea of holding a parallel parade to the Republic Day Parade reeks of contempt of the republic and challenge to the authority of the State. Moreover, the assault on the Red Fort, an important symbol of the Indian State, is reminiscent of the insurrectionists' attack the United States Capitol Hill.
Now that several supporters and opposition parties are distancing themselves from the violence, we must recall that these protests with unreasonable maximalist demands were not peaceful from the very beginning. From creating law and order problem in Punjab and Haryana to the failed attempt at storming Delhi in November, it always had a strong undercurrent of vandalism. These protestors have been blocking critical access routes to the Delhi, thus harassing the millions of common people, apart from causing the loss of thousands of crores of rupees to local residents and industry. Furthermore, all this while refusing to engage in any meaningful dialogue with the government.
In the first meeting, farmer union representatives could not point out any clause or specific points as detrimental to the farmers. The government had to ask them to come back later, but they still could not come with any issues against the three new farm laws despite 10 rounds of talk. They refused to discuss the laws, and insisted on its instant repeal. They reportedly misbehaved with the government negotiators by refusing to speak in the meeting or sitting with their backs towards them. Instead of discussing the farm laws, they made demands such as no fine and jail sentence for smog-causing stubble burning, diesel prices for agriculture be slashed by 50 percent, a written guarantee for the above-market artificial price for their produce, and compulsory purchase the government.
Moreover, even after the government conceded most of their demands along with the proposal to suspend new laws for a year-and-a-half, farmer unions refused to come to any agreement and instead called for a tractor rally on Republic Day. They even kidnapped and forced a youth to lie on camera that government tasked him to assassinate farmer union leaders in an attempt to whip up passions. The youth claimed that he was even tortured.
The protests' discourse and polemics have been steeped in conspiracy theories and demonisation of the media, politicians, and business houses. It has resulted in violence like the widespread vandalism of the network towers of Reliance Jio mobile. Wild allegations were made that corporates will take over farmers’ lands.
The violence should also spotlight the role of social media, especially Twitter in creating a fake narrative and justifying violent means as a just cause. Twitter did not ban any handle spreading panic and fake news, including that of media persons who falsely claimed that the protester who died on January 26 was due to police firing.
From observing the events over the past few weeks, and especially the ghastly violence on January 26, the insurrectionists’ aim is clear: they wanted to provoke the government and the police into using lethal force. It would have started a downward spiral of violence. Here, the police's role in the face of immense adversities is commendable. They put their lives in the way of harm and were largely unprovoked in the face of a massive assault — and still did not let the anarchy disturb the Republic Day ceremonies. It must now follow up the CCTV footage and other evidence to track and arrest those responsible for the violence.
Moreover, while the government refused to take the bait, it must now open an investigation against the farmer union leaders and others behind the violence. Furthermore, the implementation of the new farm laws must now go on without any delay. Parliamentary democracy cannot be held hostage by violent interest groups working to protect their oppressive social and political power at expense of the masses.Disclosure: Reliance Industries Ltd. is the sole beneficiary of Independent Media Trust which controls Network18 Media & Investments Ltd which publishes Moneycontrol.