My day at Tienanmen Square (In 2003)

Tianemen

Recently, during the Assembly elections, a childhood friend contested from my constituency. It was his first time as a candidate. For me, as a journalist, I have been covering elections since post 1990. He got a ticket from a party that I really dislike. But as a friend I had committed to help me in personal capacity. Often in the evenings we would analyze the possibilities and probabilities in the elections. As we neared to the day of voting and later results, we would discuss ideologies at length. Now his party strongly believes in regional identity. They have indulged in extreme violence too.

Frequently we would take stock of the situation and all of us exchange notes. As the election date drew near my friend R seemed confident that he could bank on the Maharashtrian vote. He did tell me that his party president had done lot more and gone beyond his capacity to help him win. Their rival party had put dummy candidate was what he was given to believe. I wasn’t confident. However, beyond all this was the strong ‘Hindutva’ ideology that he was up against. That is something he could not believe.

We had arguments and I realized this friend would not understand till he learnt his lesson. Point being even though the voters in our area are otherwise hard core ‘Marathi manoos’ otherwise, as another friend said, most of them are Brahmins. They are staunch followers of RSS- Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sanghatana. The RSS had ensured that otherwise cynical Brahmins came out in large numbers and voted for BJP. My friend could not fathom that these very Brahmins otherwise show allegiance to Marathi manoos politics, but how they could ditch it for a non-Marathi candidate. It is this ‘ideology’ that over rides all thoughts and actions. He initially had refused to believe, but as he saw the booth wise report he seemed disillusioned.

Mao40002(have deliberately put my pic outside Mao’s memorial, for pictographic evidence of this incident and visit). Now, this reminded of an eerie experience I had in 2003 when I went to China.  I remember I was mighty excited to be in the land of Mao. My first halt was Beijing and I am glad I got see and learn a lot. I got the best of guides. Now this was before the Beijing Olympics and China had just begun to open up. The  college students had begun speaking in English and that too only in Beijing. Most would double up as tour guides. But the fact was we were being followed, checked upon and that every guide told me. They asked me not to ask too many questions.

On the first day I climbed the Great Wall of China and had already begun preparing my 2 students guides about my visit to The Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square. I have always been accused of asking too many questions. Before it became my profession, I had learnt that if I didn’t open my mouth, I have lost an opportunity to learn anything new, moreover, often people misunderstood because you just let things pass. I told the boy I was excited to visit Mao’s tomb and most of all the Tienanmen Square. This seemed to have upset the boy. He said firstly he was not at all upto it to accompany me there and why was I so excited about Mao. I told him how the man has impacted the South Asian region till date, India has suffered and our struggle against the Maoist groups. I wasn’t admiring the ideology at all nor was I fascinated by it. I told him I felt bad about the Tienanmen Square firing and wanted to know more, except I feared no one will talk in China. Now this was the iffy part. The guide refused to tell me initially the reason he would not accompany to the square. He said he would take me to the Forbidden City, posed for photographs with me, was cheerful, but the minute we would have quiet discussion or any hint of the square, he would change the topic.

In 2003 too, China was not open. I was well warned in advance that I was to be careful. No political discussions and since I was a journalist, there would be people who would be listening to my conversations. The college kids were well aware of the Chinese mode of functioning. So we had an understanding when we would be well away from the driver, or any such people who we thought were keeping an eye or ear on us, we would speak of Bollywood, life in India and safe topics like Dr Kotnis, etc. Such sensitive issues, we would talk when away from crowds, at the historic places where only te 3 of us would be able to speak. So we decided to live up to the name of ‘Forbidden City’ and speak of why he was embittered and angry with his government, moreover Mao.

beijing18

Now for non-Chinese and rest of the world, the Tienanmen Square is etched in memory for the pro-democracy movement protests. These protests ended on 4 June 1989, with the declaration of martial law in Beijing by the government, wherein the army was ordered shooting in which hundred or possibly thousands of civilians were killed and the exact number of dead would never be known. Now what the guide told me was chilling. The reason he hates the ideology was among those dead was his dear friend’s brother. He was part of those lakhs of students out on Tienanmen Square. Many parents though supported were scared for their children’s lives. These were ordinary citizens who wanted democracy but had no courage to say so,  He came near the square while describing and asked me to closely observe the landscape and buildings. The day the shooting took place, the government officials were in continuous discussions with the army and students’ representatives. The minute the sanctioned armed action and the army began firing upon the innocent students, many parents stood at the windows of the government and Communist Party office and watched their children die. They did not shed a tear, the guide told me. He was in tears while he narrated to me. That is the commitment to the ideology. I remember sharing it with my friend in China and Mao sympathisers in India. Some rubbished it, some had nothing to say, yet some said these were rumours. I do believe that it is NO rumour.

I held this secret for a long time, after I shared it with my college friend who lives in Shanghai. He asked me to keep this secret, however much later I shared it with my Indian Mao sympathizer friends here, when the police and ATS had begun arresting the Maoist group members. This was not appreciated by the followers. It has two aspects I believe. While I do understand their fear of allowing such stories to pass around, one obvious is the negative. What I find intriguing is the staunch belief in ideology. How did such stories not come out in the foreign press then? In China mainland, people don’t talk for obvious reasons, they FEAR. But it is known. So did the media not penetrate enough in the 90s? Did the foreign media not enough reach, at that time? I do believe it that was the scenario. My friend moved from Thailand to China many years after this incident and till 2000 the environment was still not as open. He did not rubbish it though neither did he confirm it. That is how it has always been China about such sensitive matters.

But when Indians over-react to Mao and Naxal, they should not forget, any indoctrination, Maoism, RSS too is part of that ideology. So while we condemn one, I am immensely shocked that the other in modern Indian times is finding more followers.

(All pictures have been taken by me. The 1 of mine, the boy guide took).