Recalling the memorable rallies of Ramlila Ground

- April 15, 2024

The venue has seen many rallies, from those related to quest for independence to the one that led to Emergency in 1975 besides Anna Hazare’s famous drive against corruption  

BACKING: The Ramlila Ground came alive on March 31 during an I.N.D.I.A. bloc rally to support Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief and Delhi CM, Arvind Kejriwal

After a long lull, the Ramlila Ground once again came alive recently through an impressive rally of I.N.D.I.A bloc against the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal. The rally can be regarded as the first big political public meeting in the run-up to this year’s Lok Sabha polls. Surely, this wasn’t the biggest rally held at this historic ground as perhaps, the era of massive rallies is over.  

The biggest rally at the venue was held on June 25, 1975 — about half a century ago. Even though the sun was spitting fire, the massive ground was filled to capacity even before the start. It was dubbed as the mother of all political rallies. 

The crowd at the ground was jam-packed to hear the likes of Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), Acharya Kripalani, Morarji Desai, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Chandrasekhar and many more. Madan Lal Khurana was presiding over the meeting.  People were reaching the venue on DTC buses, cycles and even on foot. Those were the days when nobody had even imagined that Metro Rail will operate in Delhi in future. 

The rally was being held against the alleged autocratic rule of Indira Gandhi’s government. The crowd cheered the veteran of the 1942 Quit India Movement, JP, when he thunderously recited Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s evocative poetry: Singhasan Khaali Karo Ke Janata Aaati Hai (Vacate the throne since the crowd has arrived). Those were the days when Indira Gandhi was found guilty of violating electoral laws by the Allahabad High Court. JP called Mrs Gandhi to resign, and advocated a programme of social transformation which he termed Sampoorna Kraanti (Total Revolution). Instead, Mrs Gandhi proclaimed Emergency on the midnight of June 25, 1975.  

Apart from Ramlila, this ground has witnessed many momentous political rallies, public felicitation functions as well as condolence meetings in the past.  

Noted chronicler of Delhi, late RV Smith once said, “There was a pond where Ramlila Ground is now located. It was filled in early 1930s so that Ramlila could be held there. Earlier, this Ramlila was held behind the Red Fort. As that place was flood-prone, the new venue was found to organise it.” 

When the freedom struggle was on, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad and other top leaders of the freedom movement addressed large gatherings from here.  

Old timers narrate a very interesting anecdote associated with Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It is said that once when he was addressing a rally organised by the All India Muslim League in 1945, some people sitting close to the make-shift stage started shouting, Maulana Jinnah Zindabad. Hearing this slogan, Jinnah lost his cool and asked them to stop calling him ‘Maulana’. “I am your political leader, hence never call me Maulana,” he told them rather sternly. 

Interestingly enough, even though big rallies have been taking place here since long, the rostrum for speakers was erected only when British Queen Elizabeth came to India in 1961. There was a public function to felicitate her on behalf of the people of Delhi on January 21, 1961. That was the time when a permanent structure was constructed so that she could address from there. 

Later, condolence meetings of Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, and then Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister, were attended by thousands of people. The only sour moment of Nehru’s condolence meeting was when his sister Vijay Laxmi Pandit paid her moving tribute in English, while delegates from Japan and the then Soviet Union spoke in Hindi. Local papers pointed this out very prominently the next day. 

 Jai Jawan-Jai Kisan 

In 1965, at a public gathering here, the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri gave his slogan Jai Jawan-Jai Kisan.  

As recently as 2011, Ramlila ground witnessed a huge congregation when the Imam of the Grand Mosque of Makkah, Abdul Rahman Ibn Abdul Aziz al-Sudais offered namaaz. Devout Muslims thronged the ground. 

The movement against corruption against the watchful eyes of Anna Hazare was also hosted here.  

BIGGEST RALLY: Jayaprakash Narayan addressed the public on June 25, 1975 demanding resignation from the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi

Apart from rallies and other public meetings, Ramlila Ground is also a favourite spot for all those who love to fly kites. And since the early part of August, Patangbaaj (kite-fliers) throng it to enjoy kite-flying. 

Last but not least, the nation saw police action against Yoga guru Baba Ramdev on June 5, 2011 when he started his fight against corruption from there with his fast. A large number of police personnel descended at the venue in the night when Baba Ramdev was on a hunger-strike demanding action against black money. 

Ramlila Ground would continue to hold public meetings, but it would perhaps not see big rallies that we had seen here in the years gone by.