The February 23 rally was organized to strengthen the farm agitation which is going haywire under the directionless leadership of old and obsolete farm leaders.
By Rakesh Raman
A popular youth leader from Punjab Lakha Sidhana led a huge rally in Punjab’s Mehraj village on February 23 to give new strength to the farmers’ agitation which is losing steam.
Sidhana who is accused of inciting violence at Delhi’s Red Fort on January 26 during a tractor rally of protesting farmers is wanted by Delhi Police, which is implicating protesters and their supporters in false cases with the evil aim to derail the peaceful protests.
Besides terrorizing local protesters, the police even tried to intimidate teen climate campaigner Greta Thunberg who is supporting the peaceful protest of Indian farmers.
The gangster-turned-activist Sidhana (a.k.a. Lakhbir Singh) has been holding protest rallies in support of farmers for the past over 6 months. While social activist Sidhana is still called a gangster, most politicians in India who are criminals with charges of murder, rape, dacoity, abduction, etc. are not called gangsters. The Supreme Court of India has repeatedly directed the political parties to decriminalize politics by taking some specific steps.
World’s top magazine The Economist says “a penchant for criminality is an electoral asset in India.” The magazine has published data about the political success of India’s “accused murderers, blackmailers, thieves, and kidnappers,” saying that 34% of India’s members of parliament (MPs) in the Lok Sabha have criminal charges filed against them.
All these politicians are not called criminals or gangsters. But an ordinary man like Sidhana is labeled as gangster for his past activities and even when he is selflessly engaged in diverse social work and fighting for people’s rights.
After his initial protest rallies in different villages and towns of Punjab, Sidhana came to Delhi when the farmers camped on the outskirts of the national capital beginning November 27 of last year.
While Sidhana talks about Punjab’s rights as a state of India, protection of Punjabi language and culture, proper education for children, national integration for all religions, and other social issues, his calls attract huge gatherings of men and women from all walks of life.
In his demonstration of February 23, Sidhana challenged Delhi Police to arrest him and even said that if Delhi Police enters Punjab to arrest any person supporting the farmers’ agitation then locals will oppose the police and Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh will be responsible for the consequences.
BRUTALITY OF DELHI POLICE
Delhi Police – which is known for its brutality and stupidity – operates as a private mob army of the government headed by PM Narendra Modi. Working as mindless slaves of the government, Delhi Police men often terrorize innocent citizens and even attack them mercilessly.
Last year, for example, Delhi Police supported nearly 50 goons who with their faces covered entered the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus in Delhi to attack students and teachers with batons and stones. Similarly, these policemen attacked students at a reading hall of Delhi’s Jamia Millia University after a protest march against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA.
Even the protesting farmers faced similar attacks which took place in January. It is alleged that in order to disrupt the farmers’ peaceful protest at different sites around Delhi, the Modi government sent mercenaries to attack farmers and their families including women and children. Delhi Police – which was present at the protest site – allowed the group of rioters to attack innocent farmers.
It is often seen that when attacks take place on peaceful protesters, Delhi Police – which is one of the most unprofessional and unscrupulous police forces – does not take action to stop the attackers who mostly belong to the ruling party BJP of PM Modi. But unfortunately there is no accountability and punishment for police personnel and their crimes that they commit in uniform.
Disturbed by the brutal behavior of Delhi Police, recently a group of former judges and civil servants decided to hold an independent probe into the February 2020 communal violence that took place in New Delhi. It is largely believed that police coordinated the mob violence in which more than 50 people – mostly Muslims – were murdered in Delhi.
Although Delhi Police has announced a reward of Rs. 100,000 for information on Sidhana’s whereabouts, the police did not arrest him when he was addressing the gathering in Mehraj.
The February 23 rally was organized to strengthen the farm agitation which is going haywire under the directionless leadership of old and obsolete farm leaders who operate under Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (Joint Farmers Front) – an umbrella organization of over 40 Indian farm unions.
It was also demanded at the rally that the government should release all the detained protesters and cancel all the police cases registered against them. A special demand was made for the release of actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu who was arrested by Delhi Police for participating in the protest at Red Fort on January 26. A Delhi court sent Deep Sidhu to 14-day judicial custody on February 23.
ROLE OF YOUTH LEADERS
Lakha Sidhana and Deep Sidhu have been the main youth leaders who mobilized hundreds of thousands of people from Punjab and attracted huge support from Punjabis who live abroad to support the traditional farm leaders of Sanyukt Kisan Morcha.
Both these young leaders always advised their followers to remain peaceful and respectful to old leaders. But after the January 26 incident at Red Fort, the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha leaders openly censured Lakha Sidhana and Deep Sidhu and disowned them so that police could arrest them. A farmer leader baselessly called them traitors.
Although the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha claims that it is spearheading an all-India protest, the truth is that it is mainly a protest of Punjab farmers who are fighting for the rights of all Indian farmers. In the absence of Lakha Sidhana and Deep Sidhu, most Punjab farmers who were camping around Delhi have started going back.
Now some farmers of other states hold sporadic events at different places. Such feeble protests have no effect on the Modi government which has introduced farm laws against which the protests were started mainly in Punjab.
Despite receiving a stepmotherly treatment from old farm leaders, Sidhana said in his rally on February 23 that he has full respect for those leaders and will continue to work under their leadership.
It is largely believed that the ongoing agitation will simply collapse without the support of Punjab farmers. And it is also believed that the Punjab farmers will succeed only if they have support from the youth who follow Lakha Sidhana and Deep Sidhu.
This corollary suggests that to save the agitation, the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha will have to embrace both these young leaders and give them respectable leadership positions in the struggle.
Their unity will be the key to success for getting the contentious farm laws repealed and getting the other demands accepted by the Modi government.
By Rakesh Raman, who is a national award-winning journalist and social activist. He is the founder of a humanitarian organization RMN Foundation which is working in diverse areas to help the disadvantaged and distressed people in the society.
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