All eyes on Red Fort in Delhi
All eyes and ears will be riveted on Red Fort tomorrow, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from its ramparts for the first time.
It has been my good fortune to watch different Prime Ministers delivering their Independence Day addresses from the ramparts from close quarters.
As a media official, I was involved in making arrangments for the function in different capacities over the years: as someone in a team conducting photogrphers to take pictures of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the late fifties, conducting the Press in the press enclosure when Indira Gandhi addressed the nation, and later, I had a seat atop the rampart when Rajiv Gandhi, Vishwanath Pratap Singh and Narasimha Rao addressed the nation .
My last opportunity to sit in the ramparts of the Red Fort was when Narasimha Rao addressed the nation in 1991.
I could see the change that had taken place over the years
When Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the nation, there was a sea of humanity in front of him. From Jama Masjid on the left to Chandni Chowk in front and the Railway line on the right leading to the Delhi station, the vast area was choc-a-bloc with people. There were a few policemen to guide the people, but as the Prime Minister came up the ramparts after inspecting the Guard of Honour, there was absolute silence.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru exhorted the nation, placing before them the tasks ahead for the next year. The gathering, physically thousands, heard him with rapt attention and felt enthused . There was an overwhelming response when he asked to crowd to say Jai Hind at the end of his address.
I had no opportunity to watch Morarji Desai address the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Those were the days when television was not in existence and one could hear the address only through All India Radio broadcasts.
By the time Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister after the collapse of the Janata Government, television had arrived. Those who owned a television could watch the Prime Minister's address.
But once Jawaharlal Nehru had faded away, the crowd in front of the Red Fort started thinning. I remember a stage had come in the late eighties, when circulars were issued to officers not to absent themselves.
There were hardly any crowds in front of the open ground adjoining the Jama Masjid and one could see the road leading to the Chandni Chowk clear.
I know the hard work Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi put in for their address on Independence Day. One of my seniors, H. Y. Sharada Prasad was the Information Advisor to Indira Gandhi and he was tied up in the office for a few days ahead of Independence Day.
Later, the practice started when each department of the Government sent a brief to the Prime Minister's Office, putting forward the past, present and future programmes. It was for the Prime Minister's Office to choose.
When P. V. Narasimha Rao became the Prime Minister, I was told that a brief was sent to him . I was asked whether the Press Information Bureau could prepare a Hindi translation. When I received the brief, I took it to P.V. Narasimha Rao, who was a linguist himself whether he needed a translation. He asked for my reaction to the brief. When I hesitated to give him my reaction, he responded: It is chalk. I know what to tell the people and discussed the points with me.
My task was to ensure that the speech of the Prime Minister was transcribed, corrected and released to the media earliest.
I have been watching Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and later Prime Minister Manmohan Singh address the nation on the television. The first year of Atal Behari Vajpayee was challenging with his visit to Lahore followed by Pakistan's attack on Kargil.
Dr.Manmohan Singh had the privilege of addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort for the highest number of years after Jawaharlal Nehru in succession. The scams and corruption charges that occupied the media during the last two years that he was in office took away the excitement that precedes the occasion.
Much is expected from Narendra Modi, and I am sure, all eyes and ears across the country would be watching the television tomorrow to know what his focus would be in the coming year as Prime Minister of India.
(Posted on 14-08-2014)