By: Jai Gottimukkala
I planned to reach the march venue early. However, I ran into an unexpected traffic jam as the cops shut down the Punjagutta overpass forcing a detour via Ameerpet. I parked on the Minister Road and walked around 2 km to reach the venue.
My wife (who has never attended any political meeting) wanted to join me at the march. I advised her to stay back suspecting (rightly as it turned out) the long walk & standing for hours (and the unexpected drenching) would be tough on her.
There were people everywhere by 3.15 PM when I reached. The streets were lined on both sides with vehicles, most of which carried a flag and were pasted with stickers declaring their affiliation. Thousands of people were walking towards the venue stopping once in a while to shout slogans. The coordination of these “marchers” was pretty good considering some of them were carrying large flags or banners.
The stage was already overcrowded. I estimated the crowd at around 200,000 people.
The first 30-45 minutes was a comedy of errors. Apart from a couple of speeches, this time was mostly spent in appealing to folks (activists aligned to various groups) to leave the stage. Nothing seemed to work, not even the threat the stage will collapse! Prof. Kodandaram climbed down and asked others to do so: not a soul followed him! Gaddar mixed his appeal with a song but to no effect. Eventually they settled down to some kind of a compromise realizing they will never get rid of all the folks “occupying” the stage.
The crowd on the other hand was much more disciplined than the “stage occupiers”. Though there were hardly any volunteers to manage the crowd, most people refrained from jostling or sudden movements. Hundreds of people watched from the nearby rooftops. Some guys climbed a generator van. Others tried to occupy vantage positions for a ring side view. My height enabled me to get a clear view as long as I stood up.
The mood was mostly festive with good natured interactions. People treading on others’ feet apologized with a smile & a traditional gesture. There was a lot of animosity in the air but none directed at neighbors.
The crowd was mostly male with a sprinkling of women & children. I saw several well dressed English/Hindi speaking couples. One man was accompanied by three little kids tagging along on his motor cycle. There were other families with kids dressed in masks.
The dress codes ranged from traditional to modern and all the way in the middle. An old man looking like Anna Hazare wore a “Gandhi topi” inscribed with Jai Telangana. Groups like TNF & TPF wore T-shirts with slogans. A group of people called “Hyderabadis for Telangana” wore garlands made with placards printed on A4 sheets. A man on the stage painted himself a-la-mode Gandhi. A boy from the Telangana Sree Vaishnava Sangham was in traditional attire including “pilaka” and “adda bottu”. Advocates in black declared their professional allegiance as did miners in hard hats and doctors in white & wearing a stethoscope.
CPI, BJP & TRS flags dominated the crowd. TNGO, New Democracy etc. were quite visible too. I counted a couple of dozen parties, JAC’s & associations including those like SCRMU that I was not aware of. Some wore “kanduva” or scarves declaring their affiliation.
The crowd’s reception to speeches did not appear to be related to their politics. My BJP & CPI neighbors responded vigorously to Vimalakka, Komatireddy & Nagam.
I mingled with the crowd and spoke to several people. Many had come from the districts in groups while the singles & couples were mostly from the city. Everyone was motivated by their own enthusiasm. This surely is no “hired crowd”.
The folks from the districts were distributed packets of tamarind rice & water (not biryani & toddy as some may like to conjecture) The distribution was controlled by the group leader in each case.
Several vendors roamed the grounds selling nuts, tea & water. A middle aged women selling nuts was animatedly declaring her support for Telangana by “this is my land”. When the cultural troupe started singing, the vendor stopped her sales and broke into a dance.
There were banners everywhere including an “Occupy” banner. A few men & women put up temporary stands to explain their views (e.g. Andhra-Telangana cultural differences) or distribute pamphlets (e.g. Telangana march- why & how)
The speeches were mixed. Some speakers were received extremely well with frequent claps while others wrapped up their speech on a low key note. Actor Narayana Murthy succeeded in getting the crowd give the “Jai Telangana, Jai Andhra” slogan. Gaddar spoke briefly, administered an oath and was about to sign off when Balkishen forced him to sing a few lines.
Kiran, Dinesh Reddy & T-ministers (in that order) were picked up for criticism. Narasimhan, Sonia & Chandrababu were targeted by fewer speakers. Except for Balkishen’s rhetoric on a couple of occasions and Nagam saying “we did not give permission for COP” the speeches were balanced without unduly harsh language.
There was palpable anger when those injured in police lathi charge came on to the stage. However it was all pretty much under control.
Srinivas Goud managed the show quite well. He kept acknowledging the contribution of other stakeholders by name. Balkishen did a good job when given the mike. Sandhya too intervened a few times. The MC’s overall did a good job.
The doctors of the Medical JAC did a good job of taking care of the injured. Sigma Hospitals & their ambulance staff deserve special credit for their role.
The crowd responded vigorously whenever the aerial surveillance helicopters showed up. Some shook their fists while others “warned” the chopper with their index finger. The speakers appeared to catch this sentiment and used it well. The second time around, some waved their footwear while a few gave the finger.
By around 5.50 PM, it started to drizzle. I started walking back but could not beat the rain. I took shelter outside an Irani cafe with hundreds of others.
A shopkeeper on Minister Road told me he did a great business today. Surprisingly (or probably not) neither did the vendors overcharge nor the “mob” try to freeload.
My wife called me to find the status as there was a media blackout. I said I will brief her when I get home shortly.
PS: I lost my wallet in the last political meeting I attended. No such thing happened this time around.