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Modi’s I-Day speech likely to be a big crowd-puller

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, expected to focus on policy announcements, could draw an estimated 50,000 or even more people, said those involved with the arrangements at the venue for the annual ritual.

The police say the numbers will be much larger than the previous years, perhaps 10,000 or so more, taking the total to around 20,000 — but that may be a modest estimate. I-Day had mostly turned into a televised event over the years, making it difficult to fill the chairs at the site. This year, though, there’s huge interest in the event, it is learnt.

On August 15, 2013, Modi, as chief minister of Gujarat, had given his Independence Day address at Bhuj from a podium with replica of  the Red Fort in the backdrop. He had unveiled his mission for the country before a crowd of 25,000 that day.   

“We have information that Modi followers will come from other states, including Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh,” according to Badri Prasad, a labour contractor linked to I-Day related work at the Red Fort for 23 years. Gujarat and Rajasthan are Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states; also, the party came out with flying colours in Samajwadi Party-ruled UP during the recent Lok Sabha polls. Engagement with states has been a thrust area for the Modi government.

The Red Fort, residence of Mughal emperors for 200 years till 1857, has been closed to the public from August 8 to 15, in view of security, disappointing several foreign tourists. Preparations took off at a hasty pace on Sunday evening, including police force in attendance 24×7 around the Fort and across the road leading up to the historical Jama Masjid, via shoppers’ paradise Chandni Chowk and China Market. Police in uniform and plain clothes are all over, combing the local street markets, hotels and shops.

Inside the Red Fort, the audio equipment was being tested to ensure Modi’s voice can reach out to the masses without a hitch. The bullet-proof glass cage from where the PM will speak was getting set and chairs were all over—at least 30,000, according to estimates. The machan for photographers, complete with video cameras, is ready, and so are the many closed circuit TVs to capture anything suspicious.

“Crowd management will be the biggest challenge this time,” said a policeman, who added the force had been told to be on duty for 18 to 20 hours. Businesses are talking of massive traffic disruptions before D-Day, affecting the flow of visitors.

Kesar Singh, manning the cash counter at Ghantewala, the popular sweets and snacks joint, argues however that the earlier craze for I-Day is long over. A policeman says it’s the smaller hotels where vigil is the strictest.

Anil Shukla, joint commissioner of police (traffic), confirmed to Business Standard that additional arrangements are being made this time, as this is Modi’s first I-Day address as the PM. “A lot more people want to watch him live. The expectation is at least 8,000 to 9,000 more will come this time,” he said.

The visitors’ enclosure will be much larger, too, with several thousand more chairs. School children and government officials were almost the only audience for the past many years. Last year, there were about 5,000 people at the event, including school children, officials, ministers and MPs.

Instructions are being issued by the administration on transportation modalities for people who come for the PM’s speech. Special buses have been arranged from various points, beside readying shuttle services from and to metro rail stations, as well as setting up parking slots for around 2,000 cars.

On whether a large gathering is expected from other states, Shukla said, “It’s our National Day. People can come from anywhere, even abroad.”

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