Several farmers’ bodies have blamed actor Deep Sidhu and gangster-turned-activist Lakha Sidhana for the violence at Red Fort. Deviating from the official route for the tractor rally in Delhi, a section of the protesting farmers gathered at the Red Fort and hoisted flags on the monument on Tuesday afternoon.

Sidhu conducted a Facebook Live from the site, where he is seen standing with the protestors. Another video shows other protesting farmers chasing him away, accusing him of damaging their cause.

The 36-year-old actor was the election agent of Bharatiya Janta Party candidate Sunny Deol in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He has been attempting to take a leadership role in the protest movement and many farmer leaders are opposed to him, reported The Tribune.

As per the agreed plan between the police and the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella group of several farmers unions, the tractor rally was supposed to take place at the borders of the national capital. But on the eve of the rally, the leaders of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, which is not part of the Morcha, said they were not satisfied with the route as it restricted them to the outskirts of Delhi. They wanted to take the march to Delhi’s Outer Ring Road.

On Monday evening, Sidhu and Sidhana took over the centre stage at the Singhu border and said that they would hold the march inside Delhi, reported The Indian Express. Sidhana promised the protestors that they would be allowed to parade on the Outer Ring Road, suggesting that they follow the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee tractors.

On Tuesday, hundreds of farmers deviated from the original route and marched to the Red Fort, where they hoisted the flags and clashed with the police. Some have attributed this to a generational divide in the farmer movement with older leaders failing “to rope in those who have the ears of the young and the restless in the crowd”.

After the clashes broke out, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha called off the tractor rally. In a statement, the body condemned the incident and blamed it on “anti-social elements” who “infiltrated” their “peaceful movement”.

Several leaders part of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha accused both Sidhana and Sidhu of instigating the violence. “Deep Sidhu and Lakha Sidhana have tried to damage our protest,” Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), told ThePrint. “They incited the youth to take over the agitation and give it a different colour. We were marching on the route finalised for us but we encountered these agitated youth who wanted us to change our route.”

Ugrahan said that the supporters of his organisation refused to change their route. “I don’t know what is Sidhu’s and Sidhana’s politics and who they are working for,” he said. “It is surprising that despite all these arrangements [clampdown by police], Sidhu managed to reach the Red Fort with his supporters. We need to assess all this.”

The Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, a farmers’ body that openly admitted to breaking through the barriers, also dissociated itself from the Red Fort incident. Its leaders – Swaran Singh Pandher and Satnam Singh Pannu – had said that they would not follow the pre-decided route.

“We did exactly what we had said,” Pannu said. “We differed from the union’s routes and instead we broke barriers and reached the Ring Road. We did our parade and are now back at the Singhu border.” Pannu said that his groups had no plans to to go the Red Fort. “I have no idea who went to the Red Fort,” he said. “Our supporters were not among them.”

‘Working with the government’

Sidhu is among the 40-odd protestors who had been summoned by the National Investigation Agency earlier in January to be questioned in a case alleging the involvement of Sikh secessionist groups in the farmer protests.

But the events of Tuesday led many farmer leaders to allege Sidhu was an agent of the government. Bharatiya Kisan Union (Chaduni) President Gurnam Singh Chaduni told the Hindustan Times: “We didn’t have any plans to go to Red Fort but he did not follow our guidelines and even misled some youth.”

Harmeet Singh Kadian, the president of another Bharatiya Kisan Union faction, also alleged the involvement of government agencies. “A faction of farmers, who are not part of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, started their parade much before time,” he said. “And police put DTC buses and other vehicles in their way – so that the ‘public property’ can be damaged conveniently and captured on camera.”

Kadian alleged that the faction led by Sidhu getting access to the Red Fort building cannot happen without the involvement of agencies.

All India Kisan Sabha leader Hannan Mollah also suspected the role of the government in the incident. “Deep Sidhu, who was the election agent of Bharatiya Janta Party candidate Sunny Deol and whose picture with Narendra Modi went viral on social media, led the charge at Red Fort, according to TV visuals,” he claimed. “This clearly points to an element of sabotage.”

Deol distanced himself from the incident, saying that he has clarified earlier as well as that he and his family has no association with Sidhu.

Sidhu’s defence

Following the incident, Sidhu defended himself. He admitted that he and the protestors hoisted the Nishan Sahib, a Sikh flag, at the Red Fort but did nothing wrong.

“We did not make any separatist announcements there,” he said on a Facebook Live. “Our act should not be seen as anti-national. We raised our flags there without touching the tricolour. This only shows the unity in our diversity.”

Sidhu said the protestors did not go to Delhi to hurt anyone or vandalise government property, and should not be called communal elements or hardliners. He also said the protest was peaceful and symbolic and the emotions of the people should be understood, adding that one person should not be blamed for the mobilisation of people or the protest.