To the common Indian’s dismay, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ordered that Delhi’s famed protest zone be shifted from Jantar Mantar to Ramlila Maidan. From the freedom struggle onwards, Delhi has hosted protests as much as it has hosted power. The protest zone too travelled from the old city—the Town Hall and Azad Maidan—to Boat Club and Jantar Mantar, near Parliament. Even the nature of protests and the protestors underwent a change.
If it was Mahatma Gandhi who asked Indians to shun foreign goods from Azad Maidan (Queen’s Garden) in the pre-Independence days, in more recent times it fell upon a diminutive Anna Hazare to fast for the Lokpal bill at Jantar Mantar. In between, the Boat Club was the venue of dissent. Challenging Indira Gandhi’s rule, Jayaprakash Narayan made his impassioned speech to over seven lakh protestors from the lawns of the Boat Club. The initial congregation for the Ramjanmabhoomi movement too was at Boat Club. Protestors lost their rights over it after Mahendra Tikait’s supporters defiled those lawns in 1998. The scene shifted to Jantar Mantar; the nature of the protests too changed. It was no longer opposition leaders taking the stage, but civil rights groups—the aam aadmi. Whether Tamil Nadu farmers or those demanding action against the killings of journalists or the gaurakshaks, Jantar Mantar was the venue of all and sundry. It is where the people from across India came to make their voice heard. If the noise level was not acceptable to the rich and powerful, the NGT could have put some regulations in place.
A blanket ban on Jantar Mantar protests is undemocratic. It must be reconsidered. The Ram Lila Maidan is congested and too far from Parliament. It’s suitable for political rallies. A creative administration would have spruced up the Jantar Mantar zone, opened it up for visitors, allowed artists to draw frescos—in short, turned it into a spot where the vibrancy of our democracy is demonstrated every day—rather than Singaporising it further.