From Deep Sidhu to union leader Rakesh Tikait: Profiles of those named by Delhi Police, farm unions for Republic Day violence

As police action against the protestors continued, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha on Wednesday reiterated that they had nothing to do with the violence, alleging that a 'dirty conspiracy was being hatched' against farmers to malign their movement

Manasi Chandu January 27, 2021 19:42:02 IST
From Deep Sidhu to union leader Rakesh Tikait: Profiles of those named by Delhi Police, farm unions for Republic Day violence

Protesters climb a flagpole at the ramparts of the Red Fort as farmers continue to demonstrate against the central government's recent agricultural reforms in New Delhi on January 26, 2021. AFP

The farmers’ unions on Wednesday blamed the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KSMC) along with “anti-social elements such as Deep Sidhu" for the Republic Day violence in Delhi, which killed one person and injured over 1,000 people, including at least a 100 police personnel. The body alleged that a “dirty conspiracy was being hatched” against farmers to malign their movement and push them on the backfoot.

The statement was made by the umbrella body of all farmers' unions, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), after a joint meeting was held to assess Tuesday's violence. The body has squarely blamed not only Sidhu and KMSC leader Satnam Singh Pannu, but also a gangster-turned-politician named Lakha Sidhana, who was previously deemed close to former BJP ally, Akali Dal.

Meanwhile, the Delhi Police continued its action against the section of protesters and farmer leaders it blamed for Tuesday's events, even as SKM reiterated that they had nothing to do with the violence.

The police detained around 200 protesters on charges of rioting, damaging public property and attacking police personnel. It has also filed 22 FIRs so far that mention the names of at least 10 farmer leaders, including Yogendra Yadav and Rakesh Tikait.

Other leaders named in the FIR for allegedly breaching the No Objection Certificate issued for the tractor rally include, Darshan Pal, Rajinder Singh, Balbir Singh Rajewal, Buta Singh Burjgil and Joginder Singh Ugraha.

But who are these people and why are they being linked to the violence? Let us take a look:

As per The Indian Express, a group of youths on Monday had opposed the route agreed upon between SKM leaders and Delhi Police. They staged a protest at the Singhu border, which was webcast live on some Punjabi web channels as well as on some individual social media accounts.

Later on, some known faces, like Lakha Sidhana, gangster-turned-politician and president of the Malwa Youth Federation, and Punjabi film actor Deep Sidhu, were identified amongst the group of youths who opposed the agreed-upon route. Sidhu took over the main stage at Singhu border along with Sidhana, and announced that they would hold the march “inside Delhi”.

With Tuesday's chaos and bloodshed on Delhi streets in retrospect, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha distanced itself from the duo and also raised slogans against them, ThePrint reported. The union members shouted slogans such as “Deep Sidhu murdabad” and “Lakha murdabad”. They accused the two of “inciting” the violence in which thousands of farmers were injured in addition to the loss to public property and the 80 odd cops recieving injury.

The SKM also said that "a dirty conspiracy was hatched with Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee and others against the peaceful struggle of other farmer organizations”.

As per The Hindu, in a statement, the SKM said, "anti-social elements like Deep Sidhu and others, including the KMSC, attempted to torpedo the farmers’ agitation.”

Deep Sidhu

Deep Sidhu, a 1984-born Punjabi actor from Muktsar district, studied law and practised as an advocate for a brief period. However, he later quit the Bar to work in films after winning the Kingfisher Model Hunt award.

In 2015, his first Punjabi movie Ramta Jogi was released. It was only in 2018 that Sidhu gained popularity with the movie Jora Das Numbria.

He is considered close to Bollywood star and Bharatiya Janta Party’s Gurdaspur MP Sunny Deol. In fact, Sidhu was the election agent of Deol in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

However, as per reports, many farmer leaders are opposed to him. According to Business Today, some farmer leaders have also accused Sidhu of being a BJP-RSS agent after his photos with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sunny Deol made rounds on social media.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had reportedly summoned him and his brother Mandeep Singh, earlier this month, for questioning in connection with the banned pro-Khalistan Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) group.

Several farmers’ bodies have blamed Sidhu and Sidhana for the violence at Red Fort.

"Deep Sidhu was present at Red Fort during the violence. We were opposed to him since the start. A probe should be launched into how Deep Sidhu reached the Red Fort with a microphone," Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav said in an interview with AajTak.

Yadav also claimed that they had informed the police about Sidhu and Sidhana trying to instigate the crowd the night before the tractor rally, but no action was taken.

Meanwhile, some farmers alleged the involvement of government agencies. All India Kisan Sabha leader Hannan Mollah 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 , as per Scroll.in. “This clearly points to an element of sabotage.”

Meanwhile, Deol has denied any links with Sidhu. Deol tweeted, "Really saddened to see what happened at the Red Fort today, I have already made it clear on Twitter, on 6 December, that neither I nor my family have no connection with Deep Sidhu. Jai Hind."

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 insisted that there was nothing wrong with the action.

“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 protesters did not go to Delhi to hurt anyone or vandalise government property, and should not be called communal 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.

Lakha Sidhana

Lakhbir Singh Sidhana alias Lakha Sidhana, who now identifies himself as a social activist, was at one time, a criminal with 26 cases registered against him, for murder, kidnapping and other heinous crimes, including one under Gangster Act.

Now, only a couple of cases under the Arms Act are pending against him. In most of the cases, he was acquitted by the courts for lack of evidence. He had also contested the 2012 Assembly polls on People’s Party of Punjab ticket.

He hails from the Rampura Phul town of Bathinda district in Punjab and was once considered close to Akali leader Sikander Singh Maluka, who was an MLA from Rampura Phul. Maluka has denied any involvement with his criminal activities.

Sidhana is also the chairman of Malwa Youth Federation.

As per The Indian Express, he has two masters degrees in history and Punjabi, with a third in Urdu on its way. He uses social media extensively to spread messages in support of the farm agitation through his motivational videos and has said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi must look at the plight of small and marginal farmers instead of ‘selling’ them to corporate houses.

In 2017, the gangster-turned-social activist was among seven booked by the Faridkot Police for allegedly using a mobile phone inside prison to record a Facebook Live video.

As chairman of Malwa Youth Federation, an organisation floated by him, Sidhana made headlines when his supporters smudged the English language on signboards on highways, demanding that Punjabi be put on top. As a social worker, he has also organised mass marriage of poor girls, reports The Tribune.

Farmer leaders have accused both Sidhana and Sidhu of orchestrating 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.”

Speaking to the media on Monday, Sidhana said he “did not go to address the youth on the morcha’s stage when it was taken over by them”. He said that he and some farmer leaders only marched up to the Outer Ring Road in the national capital.

"I am pained at the incidents that took place on Tuesday but I am not involved in these. There is no video, photo or other evidence that shows that I instigated people. We had marched towards the Outer Ring Road under our farmer leaders in a peaceful manner. We never had any agenda of going towards the Red Fort," Sidhana, who is in his 40s, told PTI over phone.

Satnam Singh Pannu

Another name that has come under the scanner in light of the recent events is the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) leader Satnam Singh Pannu.

As per the agreed plan between the police and the SKM, the tractor rally on Tuesday was supposed to take place at the borders of the National Capital. But on the eve of the rally, leaders of KMSC, 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.

KMSC leaders openly admitted to breaking through the barriers on Tuesday but dissociated themselves from the Red Fort incident.

“We did exactly what we had said,” said KMSC leader Satnam Singh Pannu. “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 go the Red Fort. “I have no idea who went to the Red Fort,” he said. “Our supporters were not among them.”

As per NDTV, Pannu blamed the ruling BJP of organising the Red Fort violence to tarnish the farmer protests. He further went on to insist that his group had nothing to do with the Red Fort violence and named Deep Sidhu of instigating the clashes and planting a Sikh religious flag.

Hailing from Piddi village near Tarn Taran district, Pannu was once an activist of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He has been active in the farmers' movement for nearly the past three decades. Along with some other members of CPM, Pannu broke away from the party and formed the Kisan Sangarsh Committee.

However, soon after Pannu clashed with leader Kanwalpreet Singh over the “dictatorial attitude” in the organisation and formed Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee Punjab in 2007.

Now the committee is present in seven districts including Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar and Fazilka.

Delhi Police name at least 7 farmers leaders in FIR

The Delhi Police on Wednesday detained around 200 protestors on charges of rioting, damaging public property and attacking its personnel, during a tractor rally organised by farmers on Republic Day.

Farmer leaders Darshan Pal, Rajinder Singh, Balbir Singh Rajewal, Buta Singh Burjgil and Joginder Singh Ugraha were named for allegedly breaching of the No Objection Certificate issued for the tractor rally. The FIR also mentioned the name of Bharatiya Kisan Union spokesperson Rakesh Tikait and Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav but the charges against them were not immediately clear.

The police have said the personnel are verifying phone cameras, CCTV and drone footages to identify rioters.

Now let's take a look at profiles of some of these farmers' leaders.

Yogendra Yadav

Born on 5 September, 1963 in Saharanwas, in Rewari, Haryana, Yogendra Yadav is an Indian activist, psephologist and politician.

He started off as a professor at Panjab University, and then went on to be a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi.

After he had established himself at the CSDS as a leading psephologist, he went on a sabbatical to become an anti-corruption activist along with Arvind Kejriwal. He went on to serve as a member of the National Executive of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

But on 4 March 2015, Yadav was voted out of AAP's Political Affairs Committee (PAC). Subsequently, on 28 March, he was expelled from the party's National Executive for alleged "anti-party activities".

In April of 2015, he was expelled from the party. Yadav denied being involved in anti-party activities and stated that he was victimised for challenging "dictatorial ways" of the party's chief Arvind Kejriwal.

Together with activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, sociologist Anand Kumar and Ajit Jha, Yadav formed a new political organisation called Swaraj Abhiyan and is currently the president of it. Swaraj Abhiyan is currently leading the farmers’ protests

On Tuesday, 26 January, Yogendra said he felt "ashamed" of the way the farmers' tractor parade turned out and took responsibility for it.

"Violence impacts any kind of protest in the wrong way. I cannot say at the moment who did it and who did not, but prima facie it looks like it has been done by the people that we kept out of the farmers’ protest," Yadav told a TV channel.

Rakesh Tikait

Rakesh Tikait is the national spokesperson of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), one of the many farmer leaders participating in the ongoing negotiations with the government over the new farm laws.

His father, Mahendra Tikait, is one of the founders of BKU, who once made the BKU the voice of farmers in north India.

Tikait unsuccessfully contested the 2014 Lok Sabha polls on a Rashtriya Lok Dal ticket from Amroha, Uttar Pradesh, even failing to save his deposit.

As per The Telegraph, he has the support of sugarcane farmers of Uttar Pradesh, who have tilted towards the BJP since 2014 but are now resentful of the new farm laws that some fear will undermine their bargaining power over sugarcane procurement.

Joginder Singh Ugrahan

Joginder Singh Ugrahan (75) is the founder and Punjuab president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan). He left the Indian Army to attend to his family's farms and formed the BKU (Ugrahan) in 2002. He actively takes part in the activities of the organisation.

As per ThePrint, he is from one of the most popular and aggressive farmer unions in Punjab with the largest membership base. Known for having an uncompromising stand on most farmer issues, the leader is believed to command an almost blind following in the Malwa region for his pursuit of the cause of the small and marginal farmer.

The BKU Ugrahan is not a part of the 31 organisations leading the current protest at Delhi's borders, but the body has been running parallel agitations in Punjab, starting with a sit-in outside Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s Patiala residence in September.

The body has been responsible for the more aggressive aspects of the protests in Punjab, including the rail roko agitation, burning of BJP leaders’ effigies, and gheraoing of BJP leaders. Their programme has been mostly in coordination with the 31 organisations under the AIKSCC.

Balbir Singh Rajewal

Balbir Singh Rajewal heads a faction of the BKU, ever since he broke away from the original outfit in the 1990s. He is credited with having drafted the constitution of the BKU.

Rajewal was once considered close to the Akalis, especially former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. He is believed to have guided the Akalis in drawing up designs for farming improvement in the state.

Darshan Pal

Darshan Pal is a 70-year-old MD in anaesthesia and is the president of Krantikari Kisan Union Punjab, which has been working for farm loan waivers for several years. His organisation was among the first few bodies that started protesting against the central farm ordinances in June.

He retired early from the Punjab Civil Medical Service and began organising the peasantry in 2007.

Pal is also among the farmer leaders who have played a vital role in bringing the 31 organisations together for the agitation, and now plays the role of coordinator for this grouping.

He is also considered close to several umbrella groups of Left-leaning activists, including the now-banned Revolutionary Democratic Front, as per a report in The Telegraph.

With inputs from agencies

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