If you want to be heard, Delhi is the place to protest

Prayer. Petition. Protest. That was the strategy of the early Congressmen, the time when the Moderates held sway in the party founded by A.O. Hume in 1885. For a good 20 years, the Congress did just that: prayer, petition, protest. Then came the messenger of peace from the Sabarmati Ashram. And a new term was added: satyagraha. The strategy reaped rich dividends. India won its tryst with destiny without resorting to arms; humbling the mighty British Empire through peaceful dharnas. It is a strategy that has come to define all protest in modern India. Such is the popularity, and maybe the effectiveness, of dharnas, that the national Capital has had virtually designated dharna spaces. People assemble, protest, stage a sit-in. And lo, the media comes rushing. Headlines are made. At times, even the demands are met. For proof just walk across to Jantar Mantar near Connaught Place and you will find scores of men on dharna. Some do it for a day or maybe a little more. There are others who have been here for years on end; their demands not met, their patience refusing to wear away.

Or go to Ram Leela Maidan, not too far from the New Delhi railway station. It is the place that catapulted Anna Hazare to national limelight. It is also the place oft remembered for the pre-dawn escape of Baba Ramdev, clad in a woman’s attire. Or even the age-old Boat Club where once disgruntled farmers laid siege.

However, these are all traditional sites of dharnas. Just recently, Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his team of AAP volunteers staged a dharna in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi. The strategy was novel, so was the spot. It provided a rare spectacle of the CM sleeping on the road, like countless lesser mortals. It was for one night but it helped underscore a point: when you need something, be prepared to dirty your clothes in the grime of Delhi’s politics. As for the politics of prayer, petition, protest…well did one say yesterday lives on?

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