For the first few minutes, nobody started running on the foggy Rajpath even after Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the Run for Unity on Friday.
They had something more pressing on their mind: stand extremely close to the PM, raise “Mo-di, Mo-di” slogans and click his pictures.
Modi told them to move. They refused, jostling for better space. Some police constables briefly forgot their duty of crowd control and got busy aiming their mobile-cams at Modi. The venue of Run for Unity near Vijay Chowk, at the crossing of Rafi Marg and Rajpath, was filled with athletes and young people. The gathering bustled with energy, but, apparently, not for running.
The crowd finally started moving only after Modi, clad in white kurta and a bright red shawl, decided to start “running”. It was more of a brisk walk.
Modi’s liberal interaction with the crowd and his pace amid thousands of enthusiastic participants, who all wanted to come close to him, must have given the Special Protection Group (SPG) and the Delhi Police some harrowing moments.
Among Modi’s cabinet colleagues, urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu was the first to arrive at the venue. Naidu changed his crisp white kurta-dhoti to T-shirt and trousers, complete with sneakers.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley was present at the function at Patel Chowk, where the PM and others paid floral tributes to Sardar Patel. If crowd support made the event a hit, the presence of bureaucrats was dismal.
Circulars were issued for bureaucrats, requesting them to be present. But barely 20-25 bureaucrats were seen at the VIP enclosure. Cabinet secretary Ajit Seth, registrar general C Chandramouli and Bhaskar Khulbe, additional secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office were among the ones who came early.
National security adviser Ajit Doval also attended the function. Cricketer Gautam Gambhir, wrestler Sushil Kumar, boxer Vijender Singh sat in the front row before joining the run.
There was a long audio-visual presentation on Sardar Patel on the two giant screens and the compère kept people busy engineering slogans. Several roads leading to Rajpath were blocked.
According to a Delhi Police estimate, more than 5,000 people participated in the Run for Unity. The track was from Vijay Chowk to India Gate.