Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Jantar kya hai, Mantar kya hai?

Pankaj Sharma

30 August 2015, New Delhi

Deceived for small amounts as low as five thousand rupees to a somewhere around one lakh, they had come from far reaching places.

Jantar-Mantar of our national capital is now known more for protests and demonstrations than its 13 architectural astronomical instruments constructed around 300 years back. From small groups of protesters to large crowds of demonstrators come to Jantar-Mantar from remote corners of our country with a hope that their voice will have some effect and the rulers of Delhi will awaken to their demands. While raising slogans at Jantar-Mantarthey feel that they are within the hearing range of decision makers sitting in different buildings of Raisina Hills.

When I was a young reporter the venue of protests used to be the Boat Club at India Gate. Those were the days ofmuch relaxed security arrangements and India Gate lawns were available for political rallies and demonstrations on social issues. I still remember the winters of 1988 when one fine morning thousands of farmers reached Delhi from the neibghouring western part of Uttar Pradesh and started their protest for fulfillment of their demands and made India Gate lawns their home for little more than a week. It was in October that year that these farmers refused to go back as their leader Mahendra Singh Tikait asked them not to return till the demands are accepted. So, in spite of the chilly  winter winds, thousands of them  slept there, cooked their food there and used the Boat Club for their daily natural calls. After they left, the site of India Gate lawns was unimaginably polluted. A serious thinking for changing the venue of protests from India Gate to some other place began in government corridors and police started diverting the demonstrations to other venues which were never preferred by the protesting organisations. But, finally Jantar-Mantar was declared as the official venue for organising protests in 1993.

On Monday and Tuesday, I went to Jantar-Mantar, just to have a feel of the site of national protests that is live for more than two decades. Jantar-Mantar is no Boat Club and authorities give permission to around half a dozen protesting groups to hold their demonstrations on a particular day. So, everyone has a podium, little large or very small, with an audience from within hundred to a few thousands, some banners, placards and flags. Leaders make their speeches. People clap, sometime dance and raise slogans. The day I went there, ex-servicemen were protesting for their one rank, one pension demand; a very small group supporting Asaram Bapu was sitting with a demand to release him; teachers came from a state were trying to attract the attention to their grudges; Congress party was fighting for an issue related to go government employees pension; and thousands of poor people were protesting with their full vigour against the cheating done to them by a company through Ponzy schemes.

Deceived for small amounts as low as five thousand rupees to a somewhere around one lac, they had come from far reaching places in Jharkhand, Bihar, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana and Rajsthan. With few cloths and dry food in their jute bags they all were sitting under hot sun and extreme humid without any proper arrangements for drinking water. A large chunk of them was of poor semi-urban women with their small children in their arms. None of their leaders was a prominent figure. The name of the organisation under which they had gathered there was not well known. They had the strongest presence with around 7-8 thousand people, but I found no media camera or printreporter covering their protests. They were there, but stationed at other stalls.

I tried to watch evening Television news bulletins and debates for two days and found no mention of this protest. I also read next day’s prominent newspapers and hardly found any mention of this protest. I know that times have changed and media has its own priorities, but it gave me a little shock to find the TV screens and newspaper pages blank on this protest. If such an important event at the official national venue of protests can go unnoticed, in my view, we are heading towards the dark zone for our hard-earned democracy. Let me tell you why?

The protest in which thousands of poor men and women participated early last week was against a company whose dossier will tell you that the person behind this company had a very small dairy few years back and has dupedaround 6 crores of his poor investors of around 45,000 crores rupees. Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had registered cases against this company more than a year back, Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has asked the company to return 49,000 crores to the people it belonged. For the default of half of this amount another ‘deceiver’ is, very rightly, sleeping in Tihar Jail for more than a year, but all the chief conspirators of this particular company are comfortably staying in their splash farm houses in Aravali Hills adjoining the national capital and enjoying their evening drinks costing tens of thousands of rupees a peg in Sheratons and Oberois.
CBI has launched a countrywide investigation on around 400 offices and 8 lac commission agents of the company. Certain media houses posses the audio tapes of the conversation between the bigwigs of the company and certain players that show how another plan for duping the new investors in untouched states in process

Feasibility would be tested after some time, but the company’s move to get time to refund the money to its investors by selling its properties has been accepted by the Supreme Court this weekend. A bench has constituted a Special Committee, which would ensure sale of the immovable properties as well as liquidation of fixed deposits of the group companies ‘at the earliest possible time’ for making refunds to the investors. You must also know that around one thousand accounts of this company that are there in around three dozen banks had been seized by CBI in early 2014.

I am really keen to watch the ‘Jantar’ the government, which has come to the power with an oath to fight corruption, will play in matters such as this. I am equally keen to understand the ‘Mantar’ that makes our Fourth Estate to have a blind eye for protests such as this. 

No comments: