The Rally at Ramlila Maidan That Shook Indira to Impose Emergency

From folk plays to stirring political rallies, Ramlila Maidan has seen it all.

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Jayaprakash Narayan was also the mentor of leaders like Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav.
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It was the mother of all political rallies in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan on 25 June 1975. Never before had India seen such a mammoth rally. Ramlila ground was jam-packed to hear the likes of Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), Morarji Desai, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Chandrasekhar, and many other leaders despite the blistering sun.

The rally was organised as a mark of protest against the alleged autocratic rule of Indira Gandhi. Lakhs of people attended it to hear their leaders. JP thunderously recited a wonderfully evocative poetry by Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’: Singhasan Khaali Karo Ke Janata Aati Hai.

Those were the heady days as Indira Gandhi was found guilty of violating electoral laws by the Allahabad High Court. JP sought Indira’s resignation and advocated a programme of social transformation which he termed Sampoorna Kraanti (Total Revolution). Instead, she proclaimed Emergency at midnight, 25 June 1975, immediately after JP called for the then PM's resignation and asked the military and the police to disregard unconstitutional and immoral orders. JP, Opposition leaders and dissenting members (the ‘Young Turks’) of the Congress were arrested that day.

This truly historic ground has witnessed many momentous political rallies, public felicitations as well as condolence meetings in the past. When the freedom struggle was on, MK Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad and other top leaders of the independence movement addressed well-attended rallies there.

Maulana Jinnah Zindabad?

There is also an interesting anecdote involving Mohammad Ali Jinnah's association with this ground. It is said that when he was addressing a rally organised by the Muslim League in 1945, some people sitting close to the makeshift stage started shouting “Maulana Jinnah Zindabad”. Reacting to this, Jinnah lost his cool and told the crowd to stop calling him maulana.

“I am your political leader, hence never call me maulana,” he told them rather sternly.

Interestingly, even though big rallies have been taking place here for a long time, the rostrum for speakers was put up when Queen Elizabeth visited India in 1961. There was a public function to felicitate her on behalf of the people of Delhi. That was the time when the permanent structure was constructed.

The condolence meetings of India’s first President Dr Rajinder Prasad and Nehru, too, were held at Ramlila ground. Thousands of people turned up. The only sour moment at Nehru’s condolence meeting was when his sister Vijay Laxmi Pandit paid her moving tribute in English, while delegates from Japan and the erstwhile Soviet Union spoke in Hindi. Local papers pointed this out very prominently the next day.

Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo

Besides, who can forget 27 January 1963 when Lata Mangeshkar sang the soul-stirring song ‘Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo’ at the Ramlila ground in the presence of Nehru. Those were the days when India was in a state of shock after its humiliating military defeat to China in the 1962 war. After the function ended, she was called by Nehru. Once, while recalling that day, Mangeshkar said: “At first, I was nervous, thinking I have committed some mistake. But when I met Panditji (Nehru), I saw tears in his eyes.” “Lata, tumne aaj mujhe rula diya,” she said, recalling the then Prime Minister’s words.

Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan

Two years later, in 1965, at another public gathering at the ground, the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri gave the slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan.’ More recently, as social changes continue, political leaders and political leaders prefer to appear on TV rather than public spaces – one hardly finds huge rallies at the Ramlila ground. Leaders like Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee have addressed more rallies here than others of their ilk.

As recently as a couple of years ago, the Ramlila ground witnessed a huge congregation when the venerable imam of Makkah Mukarramah, Abdul Rahman Ibn Abdul Aziz, offered namaaz there. Devout Muslims in huge numbers thronged the ground. Abdul Rahman was the imam of the grand mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and the ‘Islamic Personality of 2005’. He was also known for his frequent sermons calling on believers to help other Muslims in war-torn regions of the world.

And yes, this very ground was host to the India Against Corruption movement. And apart from rallies and other publics meetings, the Ramlila ground is also a favourite spot for all those who love kite-flying. Since early August, hordes of patangbaaj throng the ground to enjoy kite-flying. And, last but not least, the country was witness to the police action against yoga guru Baba Ramdev in 2011 when he started his fight against corruption from there with his fast.

And yet it is the 25 June 1975 rally that will remain in the memories of those who attended it on that momentous day.

(The writer is former Editor, Somaiya Publications. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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