First Person: One Delhi stands still, the other in frenzy
Informist, Friday, Sep 8, 2023
By Shubham Rana
NEW DELHI - Bedecked trees, fountains and installations, empty roads with barely any humans, and only a trickle of vehicles in sight. And to top it all, rows of vacant seats on the metro. If you were to travel through Delhi today, as this writer did, you would be forgiven if you thought you're in some different land, at some different time, and not in a Friday peak-office-close-hour in the national capital.
"It feels like we are back into a lockdown," says an auto-rickshaw driver, another rare species on New Delhi roads today.
The security is as tight as it can get. Schools and offices are shut, close to 130,000 police personnel deployed across the city, and movement is restricted in the New Delhi district, which is hosting the much-awaited event. A tea vendor had rued about the upcoming "curfew" last evening. There are official denial clarifications on that. But, it really does feel like a lockdown. And the weekend will feel worse for the common man.
But of course it is not a lockdown. It is just the setting for the 18th Summit of the Group of 20 nations being held at the iconic, but newly-facelifted, Pragati Maidan. The main building, which will house the Leaders' summit over the weekend, also has a new name, the Bharat Mandapam. Around 5,000 security officials are placed in Pragati Maidan itself, an official says.
While the Summit starts on Saturday, top government officials, including India's G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant, addressed the media today just a little way down the road from Bharat Mandapam. The media is not allowed in the main building due to security reasons. Instead, the government has constructed a new International Media Centre in the main Bharat Mandapam building complex.
The media centre is no engineering marvel like the Bharat Mandapam. But it's massive – huge enough to house close to 3,000 journalists from around the globe. The centre is divided into working, dining and exhibition areas. The main hall itself is divided into a workstation space and briefing rooms that are marked by names of Indian rivers and mountains, respectively.
There are multiple exhibitions lined up at the media centre. From one on crafts, which flaunts local handmade goods from almost all states and Union Territories of India, to another on the latest and finest in Indian technology. The government is showcasing its ventures like e-Sanjeevani, the National Telemedicine Service, Aadhaar, and more. The Reserve Bank of India is also highlighting its technological ventures, including the central bank digital currency and wearable devices for payments. For some gastronomical relief, there is a UPI-friendly snacks kiosk. Sadly, it is not operational today.
This is good platform for us, says a vendor from Himachal Pradesh at the crafts exhibition. "This allows us to highlight that our state has much more to offer than what the common view is," he says, exuding optimism over his business prospects. "We have already had so many officials visit us today, and we only expect more tomorrow."
Quite befittingly, today's curtain-raiser briefing for the Summit was held in the Himalaya briefing room. A major takeaway was India's Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra expressing optimism that the event could conclude with a communique, which has been elusive in the recent past.
The New Delhi leaders' declaration is almost ready and will be recommended to the Leaders' Summit for acceptance, says Kant, the G20 Sherpa. He says the declaration would give voice to the global south. "No document in the world would have such a strong voice for the global south and developing countries as the New Delhi declaration."
The Summit's official conference programme is structured around themed sessions: 'One Earth' on Saturday morning, 'One Family' on Saturday afternoon, and 'One Future' on Sunday morning.
While these sessions will take place in the Bharat Mandapam, where a 'Mother of Democracy' exhibition will be showcased, media folk will await briefings and pressers at the International Media Centre. No official schedule was circulated to the media at the time of writing this article.
As of now, the next press conference will be held only on Sunday. Nothing is scheduled before that, an official from the communications team says.
Regardless of that, the next two days are set to be long and hectic – not just for the world leaders but also for the journalists, who will cover them ball by ball.
By sunset, the media centre looked like the final day of a college fest. The 'important' people had left, the stalls were only sparsely populated, and the organisers were sitting down to have their first meal of the day. And this was only the curtain-raiser event.
Meanwhile, journalists were setting camp at the media centre to dress up the front pages of their newspapers, television production teams gearing up for the prime-time news bites, and some others rushing to pen a few thoughts and prepare for the long weekend, as yours truly did. End