December 11, 2019
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Free For All

Free For All
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IT was important to Be There. At the midnight session of Parliament, reliving the nation's tryst with destiny 50 years ago. On the eve of the golden jubilee of India's independence. May as well have stayed at home. It was a disappointing show; not because Central Hall was packed, or the seating inadequate, or the acoustics so terrible that the President's speech turned to mush and Lata Mangeshkar's voice to a falsetto. It wouldn't have mattered, if only the mood had been right. There was no trace of elation the Constituent Assembly must have felt in 1947, nor solemn introspection of the 50 years since. There was no sense of history, no feel of grandeur. Finally, it was just another tokenism. Ho-hum.

Central Hall was jampacked. The MPs, although asked not to,had brought their wives and families. Few followed Gujral's example in packing his family off to the galleries. Passes had been issued indiscriminately and businessmen, artistes and even journalists' wives crowded the MPs' seats. Law minister Ramakant Khalap wandered the Hall like a lost soul looking for a place to park himself. Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh Verma and MP Sheesh Ram Ola perched precariously on a single chair, installed hastily in front of the row reserved for former prime ministers. Cabinet secretary T.S.R. Subramaniam, finance secretary Montek Singh and other bureaucrats sought refuge in the press gallery. Children milled around happily, as if at a birthday party (which it was). MP Pappu Yadav proudly showed off his baby daughter who munched on a snack all through the show. Jeans and T-shirt-clad teens looked faintly bored, yearning for A.R. Rehman's rendition of Bande Mataram (performed earlier in the day at Vijay Chowk) instead of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi's. MP Wasim Ahmed walked around with a little boy (rumour had it he was VP's grandson) around the Central Hall, introducing him to everyone who mattered.

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