December 7, 2023

Police raised red flags, but call taken to let in tractors

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On Tuesday, as a section of protesters stormed the Red Fort, Home Minister Amit Shah held a meeting with top officials of the MHA, Delhi Police and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) at his residence.

Concerns that the tractor parade could go off course were expressed during a series of meetings held in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) over the past few days, sources told. However, despite the Delhi Police’s reservations, a political call was taken to allow the rally rather than letting the farmers take a “more confrontationist” stand.

On Tuesday, as a section of protesters stormed the Red Fort, Home Minister Amit Shah held a meeting with top officials of the MHA, Delhi Police and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) at his residence. At the meeting, which began around 4.30 pm and continued for one-and-a-half hours, Shah reviewed the security arrangements and discussed the next course of action to defuse the tension.

A decision was taken to deploy additional forces from paramilitary units and suspend Internet in some areas of the National Capital Region, including SinghuGhazipurTikri, Mukarba Chowk and Nangloi. Sources said five additional companies of the CRPF were ordered to assist the Delhi Police. This was in addition to 115 companies already at the disposal of Delhi Police for law and order duties. Fifteen of these companies had been pressed into duty Monday.

But, sources said, the security forces were overwhelmed by the sheer number and aggression of the protesters. “There were cumulatively around 1 lakh protesters and hundreds of tractors. The forces were overwhelmed but showed restraint and did not fire. They had been told not to,” said an official.

“Standard procedure would have been to disable the tractor’s tyres but their numbers were too high and they were moving,” said an official.

Sources said intelligence agencies did express apprehensions of law and order problems if the tractor rally was allowed into the city on Republic Day. Even after farmer unions agreed to stick to their designated routes, inputs suggested that attempts would be made to break the barricades and enter the city.

“This is why the Delhi Police had earlier denied permission for a tractor rally. However, the government was of the opinion that not allowing farmers to hold the rally would only make them more ‘confrontationist and aggressive’, as they were expected to go ahead with the rally, with or without permission. So a middle ground was negotiated, where the farmers could hold their tractor rally without entering the heart of the city on Republic Day,” said a home ministry official.

He said it was also anticipated that a section of protesters would try to push their way into the city. “It was for this reason that heavy barricading was done at Tikri, Singhu, Nangloi, Ghazipur and elsewhere. Apart from iron barricades, cement barricades were used. There were stretches where trailers were parked horizontally. At Ghazipur, a container loaded with sand was used to block the road. But nothing could stop the farmers. People toppled the trailer, cement barricades were knocked down and pushed away, the sand container was towed away by tractors,” the official said.

Till noon on Tuesday, when farmers had already broken through barricades at the borders, the Delhi Police kept receiving inputs about the possibility of protesters marching towards Rajpath and Red Fort. At 12.30 pm, a message sent by the Special Branch of Delhi Police to all DCPs and senior officers read: “Inputs have been received that the reaching of farmers with tractors to Rajpath, India Gate, Red Fort, Ramlila Ground, Rashtrapati Bhawan, PM residence, HM residence, Parliament House, CM House and LG House cannot be ruled out… It is suggested that adequate and prompt arrangements by local police, including women personnel, PCR, and traffic, may be deployed.”

By then, senior officers said, things had already spun out of control, and many protesters had breached border areas to spill onto roads that were not part of the designated protest route. According to senior officers, police presence on these routes was sparse on account of several personnel being deployed for Republic Day arrangements and along the three designated routes.

According to senior officers, intelligence agencies had also shared inputs with the Delhi Police on Monday evening that some anti-social elements could try to disrupt peace by taking non-designated routes. However, once protesters breached border points at Singhu and Ghazipur, most of them had a free run until they reached Red Fort and ITO, where the old police headquarters is located.

Senior Delhi Police officers said that several rounds of talks with farm leaders about designated routes had led them to believe that the final agreement would be honoured. However, they conceded that trying to control thousands at several entry points into the city was a bigger challenge than they anticipated.

A senior officer detailed how personnel on the ground found themselves overwhelmed and outnumbered: “After breaking through barricades and clashing with policemen, protesters from Ghazipur reached Sarai Kale Khan and then ITO, where they were once again asked by police to stop. But many of them were driving heavy vehicles and the ones on foot were carrying sticks. In the meantime, a group from Singhu border arrived at Mukarba Chowk where they first physically assaulted drivers of a crane and removed all barricades. Then they headed to Burari and Kashmere Gate, removing whatever resistance came in their way. By the time both groups converged at Red Fort, they were in the thousands while only 200 to 300 policemen were present there.”

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