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‘Delhi vs Farmers’: Here’s Why ‘War-Like’ Fortification Is Absurd

“Walls to protect Delhi from Punjab, Haryana & UP is unthinkable and counter-intuitive on so many levels.”

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Image of Delhi being ‘fortified’ against the protesting farmers, used for representational purposes.
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Security fortifications, barricades and deterring imperatives have a functional, psychological and subliminal suggestion of insecurity and overbearing power, that should ideally be restricted to the sovereign’s restive borders. Only where there are portents of armed insurgencies, violence and bloodshed within the contours of a sovereign, does it necessitate a similar security build-up. Therefore, such security bandobast (wherewithal) in the hinterlands was usually restricted to ‘disturbed areas’ and urban clusters in the Kashmir Valley, Red Corridor of Maoist violence and decreasingly so, in the Northeastern states.

Unprecedentedly, these optics have now come to haunt the peripheries of the National Capital, which besides hosting the epicentre of the Government of India, also houses foreign embassies, offices of multilateral/international agencies and corporates. The visibility and ramifications of such proverbial ‘walls’ are an antithesis to the world’s largest democracy.

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What Happens When Perception Replaces Fact

The recent incident of the farmers’ protest rally breaking ranks and creating unpardonable desecration in front of the Red Fort was a matter of shame, which requires the specific perpetrators to be brought to book. Sadly, notable ones are still missing. Most of the protesting farmer leadership had unequivocally condemned and disowned the Red Fort incident, however irrespective of anyone’s opinion about the lead-up to the Red Fort specifically, those involved must face the consequences, as in the case of any law and order situation.

However, to slap the intent of the clearly regrettable incident at the Red Fort onto the whole movement involving lakhs of farmers, congregating under tens of different unions, is naïve, convenient or plain political.

In any case, perception has replaced fact, and to ask what actually transpired depends on whom you ask the question to — each side has a vivid catalogue of counter ‘facts’ and pictures/videos that impress their own storyline.

The sense of proportion and nuance is completely lost and that is giving rise to even more vitriol, polarisation and distrust, between both sides of the perception. The muscularity of the physical garrison certainly does not behoove a participative democracy.

Walls to ‘Protect’ Delhi from Punjab, Haryana or UP Are Unthinkable & Counter-Intuitive

Typically, security ‘walls’ would be associated with Belfast, Berlin, Baghdad or Islamabad where one would be tempted to divide people based on ‘them-versus-us’, or in the convoluted minds of the likes of Donald Trump.

But ‘walls’ to protect Delhi from Punjab, Haryana or Uttar Pradesh is unthinkable and counter-intuitive on so many levels.

Beyond politics and purely from a restorative law-and-order situation, it is a proven fact that deliberate ‘co-opting’ of the protesting, aggrieved and disaffected mass is the surest way of getting the situation under control.

Therefore the question arises, that after the Republic Day incident — when the entire leadership of the protesting farmers was clearly on the back foot — did the authorities seize the opportunity to align their security concerns with the farmer leadership for future conduct, or did they allow the political rhetoric of ‘naming-and-shaming’ to take precedence?

A fortuitous moment to introspect, align and weed out the unsavoury elements, hereinafter, was lost and healing debarred. Now, the ‘divide’ amongst the citizenry is dangerously poised, with even those who proudly hold the Tricolour in protests concurrently, are afforded reckless attributions that can only lead to ghettoised and siege mentality, which history teaches are always counterproductive in the long run.

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Political Upmanship Can Wait; Direct Participation & Touch of the Highest Executive Office Is Needed

The rural peasantry of Punjab and Haryana have given too much blood for the nation to be asked to re-prove their patriotism — as the wounds of Partition, flawed ‘two-nation’ theory and their sacrifices in the Armed Forces of India, run especially and disproportionately high, for those from these two states. Therefore, the intermittent and way-too-infrequent pictures of policemen and protesting farmers breaking bread together at the protest sites, were naturally moving and reassuring to an itchy populace that sometimes opines way too fast and way too casually, about ‘others’.

However for those who do indeed fly any unwarranted flag, commit violence (especially against the ‘Uniform’, which is freighted with incalculable significance) or express any opinion to the diminishment of the constitution or to the sovereignty and integrity of India (making a fine distinction between the nation and the dispensation, is key), should not escape the legal consequences of their actions or mal-intent. Period.

All stakeholders need to pull-back literally and figuratively, with hitherto unseen dignity and respect afforded to the other. Such sensitive engagements cannot be outsourced to others; the sheer scale, import and impact of the ensuing impasse begs the direct participation and touch of the highest executive office — political diatribe and one-upmanship can wait. It is equally incumbent on the protesting farmers to desist from allowing partisan elements of the opposition parties to define the narrative, as that can sully and infect the discourse with their own narrow agendas. This isolationist approach should also extend to any religious or caste-leaders, as the farmer movement is supposedly, above the same.

Walls & Barricades Militate Against Ethos Of Democracy

A clear undertaking from both sides to abjure any unnecessary provocation (and there have been multiple in words and posturing) will go a long distance to thaw the immediate freeze. The proverbial ‘walls’ which only give an illusory sense of security preparedness must pave the way for honest dialogue, bereft of egos and the language of intimidation. It is absolutely critical that elements that are often conveniently allowed or deflected as ‘fringe’ from both sides of the argument, are reined-in and pulled-up publicly for their impropriety in adding fuel to the fire, in equal measure without any bias or supporting context. The tact of hunting with the hound and running with the hare, has gone for too long.

Philosophically also, ‘walls’ and barricades militate against the liberality of democracy and openness, in any of its manifestations. The symbolism of ‘othering’ through such fortification when the nation is already reeling under pandemic related challenges, extreme tensions along the border and debilitating economic crisis is unsightly, to say the least.

The current surround-sound of extremes has to give way to more empathetic outreach with mutual reassurances that at least make the fortifications around Delhi irrelevant.

Publicly both sides profess sincerity to engage, so why not hold them to their words? A sense of the levels to which the situation has been inadvertently been allowed to regress, must be acknowledged.

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Let the Walls Come Down

The schizophrenic approach of simultaneous engagement, intimidation, assurances, accusations and fortifications cannot possibly resolve issues permanently.

Denialist ‘walls’ have an inherent tendency to isolate, irate and infuriate further, and what the situation really demands is for the ‘walls’ between the citizens to come down, and not come up. History is usually kinder, gentler and more appreciative of the side in an internal conflict that ultimately shows largeness of spirit in accommodation and rapprochement, as opposed to intransigence – herein, a unique situation plays out with both sides beseeching and invoking the inclusive Tricolour, but allowing the ‘walls’ to come up, nevertheless.

(Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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