While the nation’s attention was riveted on the Olympics torch relay, four teams led by the Tibetan Youth Congress launched “non-violent direct attacks” on the torch from different directions in the hope of making an Olympian statement of freedom.
If the 250-odd people were foiled within a couple of kilometres of the fortress-like Rajpath, it was not for the lack of planning. The month of preparation that went behind the attempts was followed by a breathless 24 hours ahead of the last dash.
Hoodwinking the incessant vigil of the huge security and intelligence posse tasked with averting such an attack, the team went underground on Wednesday.
It started that morning when half a dozen policemen stumbled upon more than 300 Tibetan men and women, young and old, gathered in Dwarka. Tenzing Norsang, joint secretary of the TYC and the main coordinator of the attacks, asked them to run. The cohort dispersed to distant parts of the National Capital Region, making it almost impossible to coalesce again to carry out the original plan.
Even the day before, there were to be five teams that would try to snatch the torch after hitting the security cordons in waves that would engage, detract and then move in. But by Wednesday evening, when the Hindustan Times joined the core coordinating team of three in a cramped room in a south Delhi locality, the plan had become fluid. The core trio – of Norsang, ‘the general’, another TYC member named Tenzing Norsang (one of the team ‘captains’), and poet-activist Tenzin Tsundue — had already fled from two ‘safe houses’. The men and women who regrouped were herded into four teams, not five, in Jangpura, Gurgaon, Faridabad and the Delhi University area. The team leaders were chosen. Norsang, the captain, was given charge of the 50-strong DU team. But the choice of approaches to the relay route was still kept open.
In the sleepless night of hourly shifts that followed, Norsang, the calm 26-year-old ‘general’, went around instructing the teams about “non-violent direct action” — how to get through the cordons without violence, even when incited — and the coordination details. There were also a couple of rounds of the India Gate in the middle of the night.
All the while, the phones never stopped buzzing. Information moved real-time on the underground network. There were two identical convoys from the airport carrying the torch: one that went to Rashtrapati Bhavan and the other to Le Meridien. The police had raided Tibetan colonies in Nizamuddin and ISBT.
Thursday morning was again spent huddled over maps of central Delhi. The Delhi Police inadvertently helped a bit by publishing its customary traffic advisory map — now everyone could have a copy.
Rough routes were chosen and at around 11 a.m., the team dispersed with a huddle that ended with the holler: “Freedom for Tibet”. No wonder China — which seemed more comfortable with the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way — has branded the TYC a terrorist
Decisions started moving by the minute, as the trail of Norsang, the captain, demonstrated. Leave the Rajpath route as someone is trying immolation there. Take the Metro to where the team is. Change the route again, as arrests are being made in the Le
The run is delayed. At around 2 p.m., the team waiting in a tense silence is told to hold on. There is more confusion. The route is cut even shorter. Small teams are told to move in different cars to the Press Club; no, to the General Post Office; no, to Mandir Marg finally.
At 4:15 p.m., they made the final dash.
The run dispersed near North Avenue. Policemen tried lathicharge, but couldn’t catch up. There was a roadblock near Church Lane. The pushing and foisting began. Facing slogans such as “Bharatmata ka zindabad, China murdabad”, the police loosened up for a moment and a bunch ran through the crack. Within minutes, senior officials arrived, a 100-plus backup — all to face the whittled-down bunch of 30 or so.
Monk Kalsang broke his arm, another fainted. News trickled in of arrests of all the activists who attempted the attacks along the other routes. About 4.45 p.m., a month of planning the attacks rammed painfully, inevitably into an overkill of state power.