Frayed nerves at Tikri: ‘Didn’t come here to sit at border for months on end’

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Written by Aranya Shankar , Sakshi Dayal | New Delhi | January 27, 2021 2:17:02 am

During clashes at Nangloi. (Express Photo by: Amit Mehra)

A tractor parade that began around 9 am from Tikri border, and which seemed to be progressing smoothly until noon, took a violent turn as farmers tried to veer off the designated route and police retaliated with lathi charge and teargas shells.

The parade, which was to end at Asoda toll plaza as per a plan by farmer unions and Delhi Police until the previous night, finally culminated with a large section of protesters landing up at Red Fort. The insistence of one group that they would continue straight towards Peeragarhi instead of turning right towards Najafgarh — and over three hours of almost continuous teargas shelling by the police — led to tempers running high.

Two hours before farmers broke through barricades at Nangloi, an indication of what was to follow came from one of the many protesters marching on foot from Tikri. Even as those around him claimed the parade would follow the allotted route, Varinder Singh, a farmer from Punjab, said, “We were able to cross Tikri and enter Delhi without issues… We will now look to reach Lal Qila and stay there… We’ve not come so far to sit at Tikri for months.”

Sukhveer Singh, another protester, added, “We can continue this protest for even two years, we have enough community support for that. We can all eat at langars here… but we have to build pressure, we cannot keep sitting here.”

In the morning and early noon, hundreds of tractors that left Tikri were stuck in a traffic jam near Jharoda Kalan. Tired of waiting, some left their vehicles and sat on roads and pavements. Once movement began, the first group of tractors managed to break through barricades at Nangloi around noon, after police unsuccessfully tried to disperse them using teargas.

What followed was chaos below Nangloi flyover. Police fired multiple rounds of teargas and resorted to mild lathicharge to disperse the crowd, which kept coming back with heightened aggression. The desire to deviate from the planned route only increased as news spread that farmers from Ghazipur and Singhu had managed to reach Lal Qila. A group could be heard discussing how they must now turn their tractors to central Delhi.

But many also stuck to the original route. Gulvinder Singh from Punjab said, “We will follow the route given by the leaders. I don’t know where the other tractors are going but what they are doing is wrong. It is going to taint our cause and weaken it.”

By 4 pm, the situation had worsened. A group of protesters climbed onto the roof of two police vehicles and hit the windows and roof, shattering the glass and overturning one of the vehicles. Batons and shields of personnel were now in the hands of some protesters. “We have waited peacefully for two months. Today, we faced tear gas and lathis repeatedly — we’re out of patience. If things have gone awry, the government is to blame,” said Gurjant Singh from Bathinda.

Once barricades were broken, protesters faced another round of teargas and lathicharge near Peeragarhi flyover. But they overpowered police and reached Lal Qila around 6 pm.

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