With a large group breaking off early on to head towards central Delhi, and subsequent attempts by protesters to break from the route and head towards Delhi, the rally from Ghazipur was a splintered affair from start to finish.
Volunteers and coordinators were stationed to the left of Ghazipur flyover, the designated point for the rally to begin. As individuals and small groups of farmers tried to push through or slide past barricades before the official starting time, these volunteers caught hold of them and pulled them back. “I have been on duty at this point since 6 am and people have been trying to get through since then. If we become lax even for a bit, everyone will break through. We have been asked to keep them back till Rakesh Tikait ji tells us to open up,” said Rajen Chaudhury, a 22-year-old farmer from Shamli district at 9.45 am.
What he and coordinators say they did not know at that time was that a large number of tractors had already left the site through different openings — over the Ghazipur flyover and on the road on the other side.
According to the designated route, the rally was to move to the right towards Anand Vihar, to head onwards to Apsara Border. However, tractors which broke away and left early got on the flyover to head towards Akshardham, where they were met with teargas shells as police tried to stop them. Despite this, many moved forward and went on to ITO and Red Fort.
Soon, volunteers arrived at the flyover to ask people heading up the flyover to return and take a right turn from Ghazipur towards Anand Vihar. Senior leaders including BKU national head Rakesh Tikait stood at Ghazipur Chowk, directing incoming tractors to take the right turn.
The rally came to a halt at Apsara Border for around two hours, resulting in a several kilometres-long line of tractors. At the head of this logjam was a group of protesters trying to convince each incoming tractor not to head onwards with the designated route, and instead move towards Kashmere Gate by deviating on to a flyover heading towards it.
“Hum kisaan hai aur kisaan sab sansad jaayenge aaj,” said one of these protesters who did not share his name. As tractor after tractor said they were not willing to do so and headed towards Sahibabad, some of them were met with taunts such as ‘darpok’.
Some tractors did take the deviation and go on the flyover, at the end of which they were met with police force, including lathi charge. Several vehicles were damaged in this confrontation, and that group of farmers was forced to turn back. Satender Singh from Bharoch was one of these farmers. “One of the tires of my tractor has been completely deflated,” he said.
In the meantime, many farmers caught in the jam decided to head back towards Ghazipur. Here, the split throughout the protest was reflected within one tractor.
Sandeep Kumar (45), who reached Ghazipur border the previous night, was bent on going towards Delhi while his companions said they would go back to Ghazipur. “We will either stay here or go towards Delhi. We will not go back to Ghazipur till we are heard,” he said.
Harjinder Singh, who is part of the Ghazipur Kisan Andolan Committee, said the most likely reasons for the breakaway groups was the size of the protest surpassing expectations and several farmers joining too late to be briefed on guidelines for the rally.
“We had made announcements from the stage and spread the word through our volunteers. I am confident that we got through to all those who were present last night. However, many joined in even later. They might not have known what the route was. Everybody also wanted to be at the front of the rally. Wherever they found a way, they pushed forward. The numbers were so large that coordinators couldn’t keep track of who went where,” he said.
However, according to another committee member, Guramneet Mangat, the breaking away had to do with more than just logistical confusion.
“There are people who arrived from 400 km away just before this rally. They arrived despite being pressured not to by police back in their villages. They might have felt that circling back to Ghazipur after following a route decided by the police is not what they came for. It also needs to be understood that 70-80% of the farmers are not members of any farmers’ union and they might not have felt bound to directives issued,” he said.
(Inputs from Ashna Butani)