Clampdown in the national capital

Clampdown in the national capital

Delhi is no stranger to protests. As the seat of the national government, the city has seen numerous groups march into Delhi since Independence with demands they believed would be best heard here. From the protests against price rise and authoritarianism in the 1970s to farmers occupying the India Gate boat club lawns in the 1980s and Dalits demanding a better life in the 2010s, protesters have taken to the streets of Delhi. In each case, the police and administration have taken measures to avert violence, maintain law and order, and keep disruption to normal life to a minimum.

Tear gas being fired to disperse farmers staging the ‘Dilli Chalo’ protest march demanding a legal guarantee for MSP for crops at the Shambhu border on Tuesday. (ANI)

This is why the response of the administration to the current mobilisation of farm groups from Punjab seems disproportionate and puzzling. Though the protesting farmers are 200km away from the capital, the Delhi Police have chosen to virtually shut down the city, seal its borders, blanket it with personnel and barricades that have slowed traffic to a crawl, and institute random checking of cars to ensure that no farmers are coming in. These are all actions that are inconveniencing the 20 million residents of the city in ways that will only compound if the protesters do reach the gates of Delhi.

The authorities have a responsibility to maintain law-and-order and ensure that no protest turns violent. For this, adequate bandobast and deployment of personnel are important. But the official response to any group of citizens demonstrating or marching to Delhi has to be measured. The authorities must refrain from taking overly aggressive steps too quickly, impacting the very citizens they seek to protect.

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