January 26 is supposed to be one of the most significant days in the Indian calendar. Sadly, a horde of hoodlums converted this year’s Republic Day into one of the most shameful chapters in the history of free India. Keeping to the spirit of the Indian Constitution, the Delhi administration had allowed farmers, who had been demonstrating against the farm acts enacted by the Union Government, to hold a tractor-rally within the National Capital Region (NCR). So far the farmers had been protesting peacefully at various points on Delhi’s borders but had not been allowed to enter the NCR. However, apprised of the determination of the farmers to willy-nilly hold the tractor-rally the administration, anxious to avoid a confrontation, had conceded the demand, but with certain provisos. The farmers were to proceed by a pre-fixed route agreed upon by their leaders, which would keep them away from the central region of the metropolis, thereby avoiding the Republic Day celebrations being officially held, and take them back to the points from where they had started. Unfortunately, things took an adverse turn from the start. Clearly, the administration had underestimated the numbers that would turn up for the rally and the security arrangements were absolutely inadequate. Belying the Centre’s claim that only farmers from Punjab were protesting, hundreds of thousands from other northern States swelled the participants to uncontrollable numbers.

Moreover, agent provocateurs, who had no intention of keeping to the agreed route or maintaining peace, had infiltrated into the protesters. They began breaking through barriers set up by the police and headed for central areas of the NCR, all the while engaging in violent clashes with the authorities who endeavoured to stop them. The finale of this shameful episode occurred at the historic Red Fort where the protesters hoisted flags of their own beside the national tricolour. A dispassionate look at the event would show that everyone concerned, and not just the farmers alone, were culpable for what had occurred. It had been the so-called leaders of the farmers who had given the call for the rally, but they could not assert themselves when things got out of hand, and tried to distance themselves from perpetrators of the mayhem. The administration too is to be blamed; perhaps lulled by the peaceful nature of the farmers’ protests so far, the law-and-order forces and their intelligence agencies failed to correctly gauge the risks involved and take pre-emptive measures. Equally culpable is the Union Government, which has failed to take tangible measures to assuage the concerns of the farmers, no matter that the latter have been protesting for over two months. Far from weakening the farmers’ cause, the Republic Day episode should be a wake-up call to the Centre to resolve the issue before things get more out of hand.