Lok Sabha Polls: The rallying points for ‘netas’

- April 14, 2024

As Delhi gears up for the Lok Sabha elections on May 25, we look at the most important spots where political rallies are held. Although the emergence of TV and digital media has lessened their significance, they may again witness gatherings

CANVASSING MODE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a gathering at the Ramlila ground in South West Delhi’s Dwarka ahead of the assembly elections in 2015 Photo: Getty Images

Circa 1996: Crowd is swelling thick and fast outside the Super Bazar building in Connaught Place. An announcement is made from the dais that Atal Bihari Vajpayee is about to reach the venue. The anxious crowd has gathered to hear its favourite leader. And suddenly, we hear slogans like ‘Atal ji Zindabad…’ ‘Desh ka neta kaisa ho… Atal ji jaisa ho’.

Vajpayee reaches the stage that is already over-crowded with other leaders. He is garlanded. After a couple of minutes, Vajpayee, an eloquent speaker, starts his speech laced with wit and humour. Everyone listens to him intently.

Like Vajpayee, many top leaders of Congress and BJP used to address the public at the now shut Super Bazar ahead of battle royale for the prestigious New Delhi Lok Sabha seat.

Indira Gandhi, Lal Krishan Advani, Rajesh Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha and other established leaders have addressed well-attended public gatherings there, especially during lunch time.

Lunch time is the period when Connaught Place, Shankar Market and other nearby areas are full of customers and relaxed employees outside their offices.

Public meetings outside the Government of India Press gate at the nearby Minto Road were also a regular occurrence.

“I have been seeing public meetings outside the Minto Road press ground for the last 30 years. By holding meetings here, the parties reach out to voters who live in the New Delhi constituency,” says Ashish Verma, a Congress activist.

Other hotspots 

Besides Super Bazar, Ramlila ground near INA Market, Hauz Qazi, Bara Tooti were all very important places for political rallies.

Hauz Qazi and Bara Tooti still hold rallies.

The Ramlila ground near the INA Market no longer hosts rallies as many buildings have come up in its place.

It is said that Dilip Kumar had addressed a mammoth gathering there ahead of the 1971 Lok Sabha polls. The crowd went delirious as he switched from Hindustani to chaste Punjabi. He knew the pulse of the people like no one can.

The actor addressed several meetings across Delhi in support of Congress candidates in 1971.

Political parties have also organised meetings at the Garhi near East Of Kailash, Central Market in Lajpat Nagar, and a ground in Sriniwaspuri.

Traditionally, the Chandni Chowk seat always witnesses very close battles and a series of public meetings at Jama Masjid, Gandhi Maidan, Hauz Qazi Chowk and Khari Baoli, attracting huge crowd.

STAR CAMPAIGNER: Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (second from right) was a regular face during election campaigns in Delhi. Here he is seen sitting with Delhi’s BJP stalwarts Madan Lal Khurana (extreme left) and VK Malhotra (second left)

Meetings in Chandni Chowk are always held after 9 pm.

“Indira Gandhi had addressed many meetings at Hauz Qazi. In 1980, she addressed the gathering after 10 in the night. While returning from the venue, she stopped outside the Haksar Haveli in Sita Ram Bazar for a while. Her mother, Kamla, was born at Haksar Haveli,” informs M. Ahmed, a teacher at Anglo Arabic School, Ajmeri Gate.

The sheen of political meetings of pre-social media days are not visible now as political parties resort to WhatsApp messages.

“There was a time when we’d see people talk endlessly about the political scene in every nook and corner of Delhi-6. The die-hard supporters of different parties would argue very passionately. Those debates would often take acrimonious turns. But once the result was declared, everyone would forget the acrimony,” recalls Raj Kumar Jain, who won the Metropolitan Council election from Chandni Chowk seat as a Janata Party candidate in 1977.

The East Delhi seat has always remained very politically sensitive. For the Lok Sabha polls, no party could afford to miss political meetings at Gandhi Nagar Chowk, Shahdara Anaj Mandi and Seelampur. It is also said that meetings at Ramlila ground in Bhola Nath Nagar always drew huge crowds.

This ground witnessed Rajiv Gandhi, Jai Prakash Narayan, HKL Bhagat and others addressing the sellout crowd.

Naresh Kausik, a social worker in Shahdara, remembers vividly when Rajiv Gandhi addressed a huge meeting at the Bhola Nath Nagar Ramlila ground in 1991.

“For Rajiv Gandhi’s rallythe ground was filled with people by 10.30 pm. They were shouting slogans with full throat. The mood was electric at the venue. He was coming from Aligarh after addressing a rally. Since he was coming by road, he was delayed by many hours. He arrived only after midnight. Yet everyone was waiting to hear him. He mesmerised the crowd with his brilliant speech. HKL Bhagat, Ram Babu Sharma and Jitender Singh Shunty were on the dais.”

A couple of days after this rally, Gandhi was killed in a bomb blast.

Shunty later made a name for himself as a social worker.

Decline in trend

The trend of public meetings took a beating after 1991 when private television news channels came into vogue. Since then, TV has become the main battle-ground during polls.

Post delimitation, Outer Delhi seat was renamed as West Delhi in 2014 elections. It still retained most of the areas of Outer Delhi though. Outer Delhi seat was regarded as the rural constituency in the Capital.

For this seat, public meetings would take place at Ramlila ground, Mangolpuri, Indira Park, Sultanpuri, Mela Ground, and Nangloi without fail.

Due to the Metro Rail route, Mela Ground no longer exists. Old timers say that Chaudhary Brahm Prakash used to address public meetings at Nangloi even though he was from Shakurpur.

He was a huge crowd puller, elected to Delhi assembly in 1952 from Nangloi and became the first Chief Minister of Delhi. Later, he won Lok Sabha elections from Outer Delhi in 1962, 1967 and 1977.

Chaudhary Tarif Singh, a veteran political leader of Delhi who was elected from Outer Delhi seat in 1989 as a Janata Dal candidate, says that public meetings in Narela are still considered very important.

“I remember a huge meeting addressed by Chaudhary Charan Singh in the 1971 Lok Sabha polls. That was the election when Congress, Jan Sangh and Bhartiya Kranti Dal (BKD) of Charan Singh were battling for the Outer Delhi seat. Charan Singh was campaigning for his candidate Pandit Trilok Chand. Despite his best efforts, Congress candidate Chaudhary Dilip Singh humbled his rivals.”

Chaudhary Dilip was from Shahpur Jat village in South Delhi.

Meanwhile, the massive Ramlila ground at Dwarka is fast becoming an important place for political meetings. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had addressed a big rally there in 2015 in support of BJP candidates during the assembly poll. Bhojpuri language activist, Ajit Dubey, says that the then Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit had announced Chhat holiday for Delhi government staff from this ground only in 2001 in the presence of thousands of Purvanchalis.

For the South Delhi seat, the battle grounds are spread in Mehrauli, Sangam Vihar, Meethapur Chowk and Kalkaji main market. Harvinder Singh Sodhi, BJP activist from Garhi in East Of Kailash, says that like their arch-rivals, they too organise big public meetings in all these places.

In the 2019 election rally on May 7, BJP’s South Delhi candidate Ramesh Bidhuri abused Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal by calling him a ‘pimp’. The meeting was organised to garner Purvanchali votes for Bidhuri, who attacked Kejriwal.

In North West Delhi, public meetings would be held in Rohini’s Japanese Park and public parks in Jahangirpuri as well as in Bhalswa.

Vandana, a Congress supporter from Badli, says that their focus now is more on social media to reach out to voters. It is a powerful medium and young voters can be tapped through social media campaigns. Vandana is spot on.