On January 29, tension prevailed at Tikri on Delhi’s border where farmers protesting against the new farm laws have been camped for over two months. A mob of at least 100 people had gathered to demand that the protesters be removed from the main Rohtak Road, which they have blocked. They weren’t farmers, the mob , and they had “disrespected” the Indian flag during the Republic Day at the Red Fort. “Such elements” could not be allowed to sit on a highway and protest, the mob declared. By the evening, the police had responded by further fortifying the barricades around the protest site to prevent the movement of vehicles towards Delhi.
As for the mob, the police labelled them “locals” incensed by the Red Fort violence.
The farmers, however, alleged that the mob only posed as locals under a “conspiracy” by the central government to project animosity between the local residents and the protesters. In reality, the farmers alleged, they were footsoldiers of the Sangh Parivar.
‘They were from Sangh Parivar’
“The so-called local men were from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh,” alleged Maan Singh, 70, from Punjab, who has been at the protest since the first day. Kishan Joon, a Delhi University professor who regularly visits the protest to show his support for the farmers, echoed the sentiment. “We knew that people from the BJP would come, and then Godi Media would spread propaganda by saying the farmers did violence,” he said.
Newslaundry spoke with several residents of Tikri village and shopkeepers in Baba Haridaspur market nearby to get a sense of what actually happened on January 29, and how they saw the protest.
Baba Haridaspur market
Most of them said the farmer protest wasn’t inconveniencing them in any major way. The only problem they faced was that they had to take longer routes home since the police have barricaded many roads in the area. Some of the shopkeepers, however, did complain that customer footfall from nearby areas like Kachchi Colony has dwindled, hurting their businesses.
“Since many of us have our shops and businesses here we face problems fetching raw materials,” said Naveen Kumar, a Tikri resident. “We sincerely urge the government to take back the laws.”
Asked about the mob, another villager, Sandeep Kumar, said, “It was claimed that they were from the area. But we know no one from our area joined the mob. They were all politically-affiliated.”
He said the local people were supportive of the protest. “We are giving them free wifi since the government has suspended the internet services here. We are also providing them rations,” he said.
Surender Singh claimed the mob was led by Gajendra Singh, general secretary of the BJP’s outer Delhi chapter. “On the day of the ruckus, people affiliated with the BJP, headed by Gajendra Singh, assembled a group of 10-15 shopkeepers and asked them to reach the protest site. They asked them to claim they were facing difficulties because of the protest so the farmers must vacate.”
Anil Kumar, another Tikri resident who runs a mobile phone shop in the area, disputed this, claiming that the people who formed the mob were from Baba Haridaspur. “They were neither from the BJP nor from the Congress,” he said. “They are just fighting for their rights since the protest has hampered their businesses.”
Told that some of his fellow shopkeepers had alleged that Kumar himself was with the mob, he said, “I was not a part of it. On the one hand, the farmers are fighting for their rights. On the other, the locals are fighting for theirs. Asking them to vacate is not the solution. The government and the farmers should start a dialogue to resolve this.”
‘We just supported the protest’
Singh denied he had led the ‘mob’. He claimed the “protest” was led by the All India Freedom Fighter Family Welfare Council, which claims to represent the descendants of freedom fighters and is headquartered in Lajpat Nagar, Delhi.
“We didn’t lead the protest, just supported it. The SHO had not given them permission to go to the border and protest. So they came to me to ask the SHO to grant them permission,” he claimed.
He showed a copy of a letter from the organisation to the protesting farmers. Dated January 29, it claims that local residents are facing difficulties because the roads are jammed and asks the farmers to clear out. It also tells them to take responsibility for the Red Fort violence.
Further, Singh said the group stopped at the barricades and did not enter the protest site. “We all had gone there and had only raised slogans like ‘we will not tolerate the disrespect of our national flag’. After that we came back. We don’t have any concern with the farmers. We just have issues with those people who disrespected the flag,” he added.
He also blamed the Congress for the situation and claimed the farmers at Tikri were affiliated with the party. “The Congress knows who all are protesting under the garb of farmers as the party has captured the stage. All the farmers coming from Haryana belong to the Congress. Haven’t you seen what the local women of Baba Haridaspur said about the farmers on Republic Bharat? They drink, dance and hurl abuses at night.”
He refused to speak with Newslaundry on video, saying, “Many people from my village do not even know what these bills are. So, if they see me on a video, they will see that I am against them. I need to be both with my party and with my villagers.”
People associated with the Freedom Fighter Family Welfare Council, however, denied even meeting Gajendra, and claimed they had gone to Tikri to plead with the farmers to leave. They did not incite any violence, they insisted. “We were 500-600 people. We went there on January 29 to make them understand that what happened on January 26 was shameful,” said Raj Singh Dabas, a resident of Ladpur, 3 km from Tikri border.
Nityanand Raj, another member of the association, said, “We are also farmers. We had only requested farmers to vacate. We never used any violence.”