At 2.15 Tuesday, Inspector Vijay Sakpal was standing in the scorching Mumbai sun staring at the road between Byculla and Azad Maidan, often looking over his shoulders at the police force on alert for the promised one lakh protesters to arrive with at least hundreds of bulls in tow.
There were no bulls to be seen. The protest was supposed to be over the beef ban. “We don’t know what went wrong. No one’s here,” Sakpal said. They had anticipated a “huge” rally and had discussed which section of law to apply when the bulls arrived.
No permission had been granted for the “bullock march”.
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Some organisers suggested that they might dump the cattle, “which were old”, on the road to Azad Maidan, where the rally was to culminate. Trying to figure out why the rally fizzled out, the organisers blamed it on a communication gap, and wrong date conveyed to protesters. Eventually, they decided to go ahead with the trickle of protesters, who turned up late. Around 40 bulls and bullocks were paraded in a “symbolic protest”.
The police intelligence unit had anticipated chaos. At least 19 organisations had pledged support for the agitation. The intelligence unit had even warned of a likely law and order situation.
By 12 noon Tuesday, constables at Byculla’s Jijamata Udyaan were pondering if the venue had been changed. Some took short breaks for lunch.
Vijay Dalvi of the Sarv Shramik Sangh said 19 organisations were supposed to participate. WhatsApp exchanges had promised “over a lakh” protesters. Farmers, traders, politicians, restaurant owners and slaughterhouse workers had massaged support from across Maharashtra.
Only close to a 100 protesters finally gathered in Byculla late in the evening. Swapnil Parakum, a sweeper said, “They told us the rally will be huge. So I came.”
Members of the electronic media had expected to capture the chaos on the road and the police action. They returned with some quotes from MIM MLA Waris Pathan. In the afternoon, traffic constable Balkrishna Pawar who was expecting traffic chaos said, “Koi hai kahan? (where’s the crowd?”).
Constable Pawan Ahire said he went for a quick lunch. “When I came back, the protest hadn’t started,” he said.
When the rally took shape, it had hardly covered 500 metres when someone suggested that they take a ride. The ride was in a mini-truck and a police van. Four police jeeps and three police vans were not needed and were sent back.
At Azad Maidan, a huge red pandal stood almost empty. At 3.30 pm, a few leaders of political parties on stage were seen giving speeches. The crowd was missing even by 4 pm. The camera crew had left by then. The police were the last to leave.
According to an organiser, farmers were told the rally date was May 15, not May 5.