January 22, 2014 3:34:32 am
In the mild winter fog, turned orange by the streetlights, lay rows and rows of differently patterned blankets. Some of them were plain, others more intricate in their finery. Under each one of them were people huddling for warmth. The patterns hid all identity. Under some were men from Bhiwani, beneath others were those from South Delhi.
One of them, with pale blue flowers, covered the sleeping figure of the Chief Minister of Delhi.
The only difference about the pale blue blanket was that it was a little away from the others. Arvind Kejriwal slept alone, with a few Delhi Police officers milling about. They shepherded curious crowds away from the chief minister.
Three vehicles, one of them Kejriwal’s trademark blue Maruti WagonR, were parked strategically to mask him from prying eyes and give him security cover. Once the clock struck 12, and Arvind Kejriwal covered his face to turn in for the night, he was unrecognisable. He was no different from the 200 others sleeping outside Rail Bhawan.
Symbolically, he lay on a hard surface, as did his Cabinet Ministers. Education Minister Manish Sisodia slept next to a statue of Govind Ballabh Pant. Women and Child Welfare Minister Rakhi Birla was enveloped in a white blanket on a footpath.
Through the night, AAP leaders walked the length of the roundabout near Rail Bhawan as sleep eluded them. Leaders like Yogendra Yadav and Sanjay Singh walked to and fro, surrounded by groups of people. With television cameras mostly switched off, conversations were a bit more introspective.
“This may seem drastic, and, perhaps, we need to tone down some of the language being used, but the dharna was the only way to shake the Central government,” one said. The consensus though was clear. For better or for worse, the lasting image of Monday night would be of a Chief Minister willing to forsake the comfort of his home.
Small groups, sitting huddled together next to a fire, kept themselves awake by singing. All night long, police manning the barricades outside refused to let more supporters in. They had clear instructions to prevent the crowd from swelling. If the cold was one reason to keep many awake, the other reason was distrust.
“In 2011, Annaji had asked us to stay awake at night because he was afraid police would pick him up. What if these people take away Arvindji. We have to stay up and protect him,” Pratap Singh from Rewari said.
At 2 am, more reinforcements against the elements arrived. A truck, carrying mattresses and blankets, was parked outside Rafi Marg. For once, there was a break in the ranks, with people squabbling for the limited supplies.
The morning arrived with a fresh set of problems. There was only one toilet in the vicinity, at the Press Club of India. It already had a long queue outside.
In the morning light, an aggressive Kejriwal had his first press interaction for the day. He spoke of the lack of toilets as a Central government conspiracy. He asked Sushilkumar Shinde if he was waging war against the Delhi government. It was only fitting that the drum beats that set the mood came from the Armed Forces contingents rehearsing for their Republic Day parade.
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