Deep Sidhu: Punjabi actor at center of peasant protest controversy in Delhi “disappears”

A film actor who found himself in the center of the storm at Delhi’s iconic Red Fort on Tuesday reportedly disappeared when police tried to question him about his role in the Republic Day protests.

Deep Sidhu was pictured and filmed with a group of peasants who broke away from a peaceful tractor march and overran the police barricades at the landmark and hoisted a religious Sikh flag on an empty flagpole.

The collective of farmers’ unions, which organized a month-long protest outside Delhi, condemned the violent scenes on Tuesday that resulted in the death of a protester and the injuries of dozens of police officers. Those involved in the clashes are not moving peacefully against new government reforms.

Sidhu himself has been labeled a “traitor” and “infiltrator” by the unions, despite the fact that the actor insisted in a video posted on his Facebook page that he was standing with the farmers in their plight.

The actor has not been seen publicly or discussed in media interviews since the video was released late Tuesday night.

A report from Indian times The newspaper said Sidhu was hiding from the public glare and, aside from the Facebook video, was last seen escaping the Red Fort on a motorcycle after unfolding the flag and others trying to confront him.

Delhi Police recorded more than 25 cases related to the violence on Tuesday. The complaints submitted also included top farmers’ union leaders.

Sidhu’s name was also mentioned in a police complaint, a senior police officer told NDTV news channel. Lookout notice has been issued against everyone named in the complaints, including Sidhu.

The report said the passports of the named people were being confiscated by the police to prevent them from flying abroad.

Delhi Police Commissioner SN Srivastava said that no perpetrator involved in the violence would be spared, adding that some of the peasant leaders had made inflammatory speeches after which demonstrators broke the police barricades.

“So far, 19 people have been arrested while more than 50 people have been detained. We use the facial recognition system and use the help of video surveillance and video footage to identify the accused. Strict measures are being taken against the identified people,” the police chief said.

The Narendra Modi-led government also condemned the violence on a day India celebrates the formation of its constitution and a military parade was held across the capital at the same time.

“It cannot be condemned enough,” said Minister Prakash Javadekar on Thursday in the first official response by the Modi cabinet since the clashes. “Action should be taken against anyone who instigated others. India will not tolerate the manner in which the tricolor (Indian national flag) has been insulted in the Red Fort.”

In early December, Sidhu was banned from addressing the crowd from the official stage of the farmers’ camp on the outskirts of Delhi, where 31 organizations representing farmers led the protest against government reforms that will open the agricultural sector to market forces.

Sidhu’s involvement and Tuesday’s violence in general have opened rifts within the peasant protest movement. Some have labeled him a government support work because he was previously pictured with the Prime Minister, while others accused him of supporting the Sikh separatist movement “Khalistan”.

Sidhu has denied these claims and pushed back the union leaders to suggest that they work for the agenda of the left opposition parties. But he apologized for the testimony a day later.

The protesting farmers are calling for the repeal of all three agricultural reform laws passed by the Indian Parliament last September, which they fear will pave the way for their exploitation by multinational corporations and remove security in the form of a guaranteed minimum price, that the government pays for their products.

The Modi government has tried to allay its concerns and has insisted that most farmers will benefit from greater privatization of the sector. The government also offered to suspend the reforms for 18 months for consultation, but this was rejected by the protest leaders.

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