There is a familiar pattern to the right wing’s spin on the events of 26 January: condemning the farmers who reached the centre of Delhi, labeling them “extremists,” “Khalistani,” or simply “anti-national.” Perhaps it suits everyone to now find a scapegoat in people like the actor Deep Sidhu, who is accused of instigating protesters to hoist a flag at the Red Fort, and the supposed extremist elements who farmer leaders claimed had hijacked part of the protests. But what happened was predictable. The government and the farmer-union leaders would surely have seen this coming, and yet, they did little to forestall it.
The protests against the farm laws have been building up since September, when the laws were passed—for the first month and a half in Punjab and then, since late November, on the outskirts of Delhi. Over this protracted period, the negotiations went nowhere and the cadre became steadily impatient. Partly to appease the cadre, the farmer leaders themselves had built up expectations of a historic tractor match on Republic Day, circling the power centre in Delhi. The leaders and the Delhi Police failed to agree on a route for days. Barely two days before the march, they finally settled on a route that limited the march to Delhi’s outskirts. To no one’s surprise, the decision fell well short of the cadre’s expectations, which the union leaders themselves had fanned.
From the night of 24 January, the disquiet among the younger elements in the protest began to be openly articulated. On the afternoon of 25 January, Sarwan Singh Pandher, the general secretary of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee—a major union at the protests—announced that their cadre would not follow the designated route. After Pandher’s speech, it was a given that a large number of the protestors would deviate from the route. Given a 15-hour notice of this likelihood, the Delhi Police seemed surprisingly unprepared for it.