A tractor march meant to highlight farmers' demands dissolved into anarchy on the streets of the national capital on Tuesday, as hordes of rampaging protesters broke through barriers, fought with police, overturned vehicles and delivered a national insult --hoisting a religious flag from the rampart of Red Fort, a privilege reserved for India's tricolour.
Tens of thousands of protesters clashed with police in multiple places, leading to chaos in well known landmarks of Delhi and suburbs, amid waves of violence through the day, leaving the farmers' two-month peaceful movement in tatters.
In a Republic Day like no other, farmers atop tractors, on motorcycles and some on horses, broke barricades to enter the city at least two hours before they were supposed to start the tractor march at noon sanctioned by authorities. Steel and concrete barriers were broken and trailer trucks overturned as pitched battles broke out in parts of the city.
Eclipsing the traditional show of military might at Rajpath, the farmers' tractor parade that was supposed to be peaceful led to virtual anarchy on the streets and unprecedented scenes – the most perhaps being the sight of protesters clambering up the flagpole at the Red Fort, the centrepiece of India's Independence Day celebrations, to hoist the ‘Nishaan Sahib', the Sikh religious flag.
Farmer leaders, who have been spearheading the protest at the national capital's border points to demand a repeal of the farm laws, distanced themselves from the protests that had taken such an unseemly turn.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 41 farmer unions, alleged that some 'antisocial elements' infiltrated their otherwise peaceful movement.
The union also condemned and regretted the "undesirable" and "unacceptable" events as the parade turned violent after several groups of farmers deviated from the pre-decided route for the march.
"We have always held that peace is our biggest strength, and that any violation would hurt the movement … "We dissociate ourselves from all such elements that have violated our discipline. We appeal strongly to everyone to stick to the route and norms of the parade, and not indulge in any violent action or anything that taints national symbols and dignity. We appeal to everyone to desist from any such acts,” it added. "We are trying to get a full picture of all the events with regard to the several parades that were planned today and will share a full statement soon. Our information is that apart from some regrettable violations, the parades are underway peacefully as per plan," it said in a statement.
As the sun set, sporadic incidents of violence continued and restless crowds roamed the streets in many places. Some groups of farmers began the journey to their respective sit-in sites at Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur, but thousands stayed on.
Union Minister of Tourism and Culture Prahlad Patel condemned the actions of a section of farmers who entered the Red Fort as part of their tractor rally and said it violated the symbol of dignity of India's democracy.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said violence is not the solution to any problem.
Taking up cudgels on behalf of the farmers, the CPI(M) lashed out at the Centre over the treatment meted out to protesting farmers during their tractor rally, and said tear gassing and lathicharging them is "unacceptable".