Save Democracy Rallies – in 1975 and in 2024: ‘Vacate the throne, for people are coming’

Opposition rally Ram Lila Maidan

On 25 June 1975, I had attended the rally at Ram Lila Maidan, New Delhi, the call for which was given to press for Mrs. Gandhi’s resignation since the Allahabad High Court had unseated her on grounds of electoral malpractice. I was then working at Irwin Hospital (Now Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan Hospital) as a young resident Doctor. Along with my friend Vimal, I walked to Ram Lila Maidan. There were about one lakh people in the gathering. All the big leaders of the opposition addressed the gathering. Jayaprakash Narayan (J.P.) recited a poem by Dinkar:

‘Singhasan Khaali Karo Ke Janata Aati Hai’

(Vacate the throne, for people are coming)

At the end of the rally volunteers started collecting small donations on a bed-sheet held by four people. My friend Vimal and I donated a princely amount of Rs. Five. J.P. gave a call for total revolution. The rally was against the authoritarian rule of Indira Gandhi. The rally helped in removing the fear out of the minds of the people. It also united the opposition. It was my first political rally which I attended.

Fifty years later on 31 March 2024, I attended the INDIA bloc parties’ rally at Ram Lila Maidan. It was a rally of the opposition parties with the slogan: ‘Save Democracy’. The Ram Lila Maidan was fully packed. Outside the maidan there were tens of thousands of protesters shouting slogans against the authoritarian rule of the Modi Government. Women were seen in large numbers particularly Muslim women. There was big participation by young people – boys and girls. Also, people from the working class and from the bastis were active participants. Bill boards carrying images of opposition leaders with the message: Save Democracy were put-up along the road leading to Ram Lila Maidan. There was a heavy presence of policemen and police women. People from Punjab were present in large numbers No vendors were allowed outside the Ram Lila Maidan. Drinking water bottles were not allowed to be sold. It was a hot summer afternoon. The internet was off most of the time, probably jammers were in action. My colleague, Shobha and I were there from 10:30 a.m. onwards. We could talk to a number of participants. Most predicted that BJP will not get more than 200 seats in the upcoming elections. The slogans were mostly condemning the fascist regime of Modi.

The next day’s print media covered the event in a subdued manner. The only exception was the Indian Express which had several pages of reporting on the issue. The HT put the figure of 10,000 even as the Delhi police said 30,000 had attended the rally. The fact is that Ramlila Maidan was full by 10 a.m. since people had started entering by 7 a.m. Ramlila Maidan can accommodate at least 100,000 people. As we walked out of the rally site the question in our mind was if Internal Emergency-II would be imposed in the near future. After the 1975 rally Internal Emergency was clamped within a few days. The Emergency period lasted 18 months, however in the elections held thereafter Mrs. Gandhi was booted out of power.

The enthusiasm of the people seen and felt at the 31 March 2024 rally brings hope that resistance to any such step would be equally powerful in this round too.

P.S. Sahni is a member of PIL Watch Group.


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