The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Day II: Beat the retreat

On Wednesday, the army sent in trucks, men and machinery for a mela on the mauled Maidan. The next day, it pulled out the troops and the gear, reclaiming its role as guardian of the green. Metro reports from the Maidan

The protectors of the city's green briefly turned plunderers, only to correct course and play custodians again ' all within 24 hours.

On Wednesday afternoon, the troop movement on the Maidan was meant to dump all equipment ' from pots and pans to tents and poles ' needed for the weekend exhibition showcasing the strengths of the army.

Trucks trampled the greens, bearing men and machinery, as army personnel got busy digging holes, setting up tents, scouting for spots for not just stalls, but a stage, a kitchen and toilets.

On Thursday afternoon, the troop movement on the Maidan was in the opposite direction ' to pack up and ferry out all exhibition equipment.

Even as CPM state secretary Anil Biswas toured the mauled Maidan accompanied by senior army officers, the foot soldiers were busy with their Operation Salvage.

The trucks did roll into the Maidan, but only to carry away equipment that had been dumped a day before ' poles and chairs, tents and microphones ' for the exhibition starting January 13 on Brigade Parade Grounds.

'We have received orders from the higher authorities to vacate the Maidan. The exhibition will now be held inside Fort William,' said a jawan from the Gorkha Regiment.

There was no official briefing on the sudden decision to pull out of the Maidan.

But insiders claimed chief of army staff General J.J. Singh, in the city for a function on Thursday, reacted strongly to the TTforCity campaign in Metro and directed the Eastern Command to change the venue of the exhibition.

The message was communicated this morning to the GoC-in-C Eastern Command Arvind Sharma and soon thereafter, the order was passed down the line: 'Leave the Maidan.'

The jawans by then were already out on the Maidan, putting finishing touches to the exhibition site where hundreds of visitors were expected for three days.

Beating the retreat began soon after 11.30 am. While members of the Gorkha and Signals regiments went about lifting the brass stands, the markers, the aluminium utensils and other equipment, those from the Maratha Regiment pulled down the tents and rolled up the carpets.

Only the large iron pillars, that had been brought in to set up stage, were not removed.

By late afternoon, only a handful of jawans remained with the last of the utensils, waiting for a truck ride back to Fort William.

An army spokesperson stated in the evening that the exhibition 'will now be held at the training ground of Fort William and civilians would be allowed in for a preview to the Republic Day parade'.

And the Maidan can breathe easy for the moment, with its keepers deciding not to inflict a show of military might days after a political show of strength had left the greens bruised and burnt.

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