For 36-year-old hawker Rajinder Guletia, the two kilometres walk from his residence at Sadar Bazar to the Red Fort on 15 August had become a routine affair for the past several years. On the 68th Independence Day however Guletia observed a new found energy; after all, a new Prime Minister was taking the podium after 10 long years. Donning a tri-colour wig and a small paper flag tucked on his shirt, Guletia had come in early to listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden speech.
“There was a lot of passion and enthusiasm that I have never seen before,” said Guletia.
People from various corners of the country had been preparing to reach the Red Fort since dawn. Many commuters took the advantage of the special provision for a free Delhi metro ride till Chandni Chowk metro station, a few miles away from the Red Fort.
The Ministry of External Affairs was taken pleasantly by surprise by the overwhelming interest evinced by Heads of Foreign Missions posted in Delhi in the Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech delivered from the ramparts of the Red Fort today.
“Usually, out of the 153 Foreign Missions in New Delhi, 50-60 Missions approach us for passes to attend the Ceremony at Red Fort. However, this time we received an unprecedented request from 150 Missions to attend,” said an MEA Official. Given paucity of space, only 144 of these could be accommodated, he added.
Given the enormous interest shown by foreign Missions, for the very first time, arrangements were made for simultaneous English translation for the benefit of the foreign diplomatic corps.
The high-level preparations could be witnessed not only around the Fort but across the streets of central Delhi which was decorated with flowers and lightings. At several metro stations, on Friday morning, instead of the usual announcements of scheduled arrivals and departures, patriotic songs could be heard.
At the Red Fort, the security arrangements were massive. Besides local security personnel in and around the venue, additional Central Industrial Security Forces (CISF) forces, National Security Guard (NSG) sharpshooters and spotters were deployed across various corners. A police official said that 256 metal detectors were put in place for the day. Security personnel were instructed not to allow people wearing black clothes inside the venue.
“We want to make sure that this venue does not turn into a protest ground for Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) aspirants,” a police officer said.
But that couldn’t deter the spirits of the young lot who took off their shirt and marched inside in their undershirts, clearly not willing to miss this historic moment. Enthusiasts jingled the famous poetic lines Veer Tum Bhade Chalo (Brave, keep marching on) while taking an exhaustive walk till the venue.
The visitor’s enclosure was swarming with people who were trying to place themselves at the best possible viewpoint to catch a glimpse of the 15th Prime Minister of India. Children got the tri-colour painted on their faces, others wore symbolic hats, carried the national flag or were heard shouting Modi chants.
The sight was such that it pumped energy into a 72-year-old Devnath Prasad who could not resist joining the crowd in raising the Vande Mataram slogan. Shreekant Negi took a 350-km ride from Shimla to listen to his ‘revolutionary leader.’ Dressed up in the traditional attire of dhoti and kurta, the farmer from Himachal Pradesh was all praises for Modi.
“I am fascinated with this man. I love the manner in which he takes into account the views of all the stakeholders to arrive at a decision,” Negi said.
There were a lot of first-timers who didn’t want to miss the opportunity that had come knocking at their doors. “The best thing about this event was that the government reached out to the masses and advertised a lot to invite us for this historic moment,” Vikranti Tiwari, a student from Delhi exclaimed.
However, not everyone was pleased with the arrangement and had their bitter moments of the day. For instance, hundreds like 20-year old Rakesh who had travelled long distances had to listen to the PM on a loudspeaker from outside.
“It is better to see the telecast on television rather than take the pain to reach the venue. It seems the authorities underestimated the crowd. Arrangements could have been better,” said Kavya, who travelled from Andhra Pradesh but could not manage to get a seat for self despite VIP passes. At certain parts of the venue, people complained of poor quality loudspeakers.
The hour-long engaging speech delivered by Modi left many flattered. The moment Modi touched upon the issues related to the common man, women safety, youth and corruption, the crowd roared. “It was a damdar (strong) speech. Look at his commitment towards women issues,” said Jareen Khatun, a 35-year-old woman from Jalpaiguri in West Bengal.
As the speech ended, people only hoped that Modi stays committed to his visionary path and greet them on this occasion for several years to come.