On 26 January 2021, when India was celebrating its 72nd Republic Day and Indian Armed Forces were making an impressive display of India’s military might, a set of hooligans stormed the Red Fort only to raise a religious flag along with that of several political parties on the same ramparts of Red Fort on which India’s PM delivers his speech on the every Independence Day. Thus, by raising a religious and political flag atop one of the most sacred symbols of Indian democracy, people not only tarnished the secular image of India but also humiliated all the freedom fighters who selflessly withstood great oppression under the British Raj for seeing the ‘Indian Tricolor’ fly with pride on the same ramparts of Red Fort which were humiliated on 26 January 2021. In this Guarding India article, we will examine various facets of this black day event and try to figure out what Indian security agencies must do for avoiding such incidents in the future.
Whether Farmer Protest is right or not? That is a separate question with a political dimension, however, no Indian can deny what unfolded in Delhi in name of Farmer Protest was pure tyranny by politically motivated hooligans.
Few days prior to the storming of Red Fort, a perceived Pakistan sponsored Sikh terror group “Sikhs for Justice” which is trying to be front for ISI’s campaign for destabilizing Punjab by raising demand for separate Khalistan had offered a reward for anyone who hosted a Khalistan flag at the India Gate. Thankfully, Farmer leaders ensured that no Khalistan flag was unfurled on the ramparts of the Red Fort. However, what criminals did in their name was something that goes even against the values taught by Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh or those who were brutally killed in Jallianwala Bagh while doing a peaceful protest.
These sentiments were felt by the leaders of the Farmer Protest who by the evening of 26 January 2021, were seen issuing apologies as they knew that the storming of Red Fort has opened a Pandora’s Box. Across India, the common man watched with horror what was akin to a visible assault on the most revered icon of the 1857 Indian Freedom Struggle. The anger has turned the tide against farmers who will now be at backfoot.
Since, the commencement of farmer protests, it has been a sensitive issue for the present-day government under PM Modi as the use of force against farmers would have been akin to political suicide. On the other hand, the repeated talks between government and farmers have yielded little result and even the honest intention of the Supreme Court was questioned. These events kept on emboldening the protesters who ultimately hit the nadir in form of the storming of Red Fort on 26 January 2021.
One factor which many renowned political pundits missed was the fact that during the entire protest, the Indian intelligence agencies kept on warning about the involvement of Pakistan-based elements in this protest. This is quite natural as ISI along with its stated policy of “bleeding India with thousand cuts” often misses any chance to ferment regional and religious tensions inside India. The involvement of ISI makes any internal protest an issue of national security.
This becomes even more important when the country is just emerging from COVID-19 induced economic slowdown and India is the only economy that has received double-digit growth prediction from IMF. At this juncture, India has an opportunity to overtake China and reach much beyond what Pakistan can even hope to match. That is why China intruded in Ladakh, Pakistan has been trying to tie up India in Article 370 and now trying to instigate protests just for raising doubts in minds of foreign investors.
In fact, a day prior to the much-hyped peaceful tractor parade, India’s internal intelligence agency, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) had warned that ISI sponsored pro-Khalistan elements would try to hijack the farmer protests and disrupt peace in Delhi. As per Delhi Police, Pakistan-based handlers used 308 Twitter handles to mobilize and influence the farmer protest. Thus, we may conclude Pakistan factor loomed large in the farmer protest even before the events of 26 January 2021. However, we will still not go into the political issue of the Farmer protest and will only analyze the security situation it created.
Now if we consider the warning of the Intelligence Bureau and disclosures by Delhi Police, the response of Delhi Police has been lackluster or lousy at the best. However, one must remember these policemen were facing the same dilemma which one of the world’s best-equipped police forces on Capitol Hill in Washington (D.C.) when similar violent protests were recorded in the USA. While it is understood that the excessive use of force will be advantageous to the opposition, however, democracies world over need a new mechanism to deal with such incidents.
Thus, Indian security agencies need to develop a mechanism that shall ensure the safety of symbols of Indian culture and guarantee that never again any mob tries to storm India Gate or the Red Fort. In this regard, Delhi Police must identify those who stormed the Red Fort and they should be brought to the book for sending a clear message that political protest must not damage the cultural heritage of India which cherishes its ‘Unity in Diversity’.