SUR SADAN IS THE CULTURAL EPICENTRE OF AGRA. The auditorium hosts many of the city’s most significant cultural events, and stands in a compound along one of the main roads through the city centre. Potted plants, arrayed a few paces from each other, form a ring around the auditorium building, and manicured shrubs and small trees line the roads and walkways. On the morning of 10 July, every pot had a saffron flag planted in its soil, and every shrub and tree within easy reach had one dangling from its branches. The flags bore a circular logo of a flaming torch held aloft against a silhouette of the Indian subcontinent. Four bold letters above it announced “ABVP.”
Every year, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a student group affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, celebrates the anniversary of its founding, on 9 July 1949, as rashtriya chhatra diwas, or national students day. As part of this year’s anniversary proceedings, the ABVP’s Agra unit held a two-week plantation drive across the city. Sur Sadan had been chosen to mark its conclusion.
The compound teemed with young people: university and school students, and uniformed members of the National Service Scheme and the National Cadet Corps, both government-run volunteer programmes. Two ABVP volunteers stood at the auditorium doorway, putting tilak on the forehead of each entrant. I was welcomed with a smear of the vermillion powder too.
The hall was booming with slogans: “ABVP dynamite, ABVP dynamite,” “Laal chale bhai laal chale, Bharat Ma ke laal chale” (Forward, sons of Bharat Ma) and“Bharat ko phir vishwa guru banana hai, yahi pavan laksh hamara hai” (Our sacred goal is to make Bharat a teacher for the world once again). I settled into a seat in a section of the front row reserved for the media.
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Priyanka Dubey is a staff writer at The Caravan.