For some time now New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar Road has been the country’s ultimate destination for revolutionaries, political oligarchs and assorted causerati. For any leader, mobilising a big crowd to raise a rebellion and anger at this tree-lined boulevard has been the sign of arrival.

Last week, the new Patidar hero, Hardik Patel, joined these ranks when he announced that the Patels of Gujarat will descend on Jantar Mantar Road in large numbers to assert their claim for job reservations. For the Patels, it will be an ideal protest site. Along the whole leafy boulevard, there is only one picture of any political leader, and that is of Sardar Patel, thanks to a dilapidated bungalow that houses a trust named after the Iron Man.

Till a few years ago, protesters from the "other India" used to march to Parliament during session, hoping that the big and mighty sitting in the splendorous red sandstone buildings would come out and meet them or at least hear their cries. After the 2001 Parliament attack or around that time, Jantar Mantar Road became the national protest street, where the neglected India would descend to remind us of their existence or cry their throats out.

Once on this street, the protesters can imagine that they are finally at the centre of the capital and for once they can make the people in power accountable. This street is where a few months back, a Rajasthan farmer, Gajendra Singh, hanged himself in full glare of TV cameras during an Aam Aadmi Party rally, in what could have been a stunt that went tragically too far.

The fault line of power

Leading a rally in Meerut is not the same as doing it at Jantar Mantar Road, just a shout away from Parliament and the big leaders’ lovely bungalows. 2, Jantar Mantar belongs to AK Antony (no mean protester himself), and a few houses down the road is Mulayam Singh Yadav’s guarded bungalow. Jantar Mantar Road is not just where protests are held. It is where the other India and the India of the powerful collide. On this fault line, many tremors occur, some of which, like the Anna Hazare and AAP protests, have changed the country’s political landscape.

Also last week, retired jawans went on strike on the part of the street close to the equinoctial sundial Jantar Mantar, one of four early 18th century observatories that forms the backdrop of all the churning and violence. The observatory was built by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur and various constructions there – named Samrat Yantra, Niyati Chakra and the like – are meant to calculate the time of the day. Most prominent of course is the gigantic triangular construction called the gnomon, with the hypotenuse that is considered to be built parallel to the plane of the equator.

Jantar Mantar, the 18th century observatory.

If you buy a Rs 10 ticket, you can spend a whole day on the lawns of the real Jantar (Mantar is just an echo word). And if you climb up one of the structures, you can get an aerial view of the agitations, while escaping the tear gas and lathi charges of the kind that happened recently when retired soldiers protesting for the implementation of the One Rank One Pension scheme were forcibly removed. They have since tasted success, with the government partly accepting their demand.

It is a street for the cranks too. Many built huts here to protest on the boulevard forever – most of whom were removed. Some still survive. For 28 years now, two men, SK Pande and Om Sri, have been sitting on dharna (having moved here from another location about 10 years ago), demanding that regional languages be made the language of courts. Om Sri talks in detail of how the poor are suffering because they cannot state their case nor their lawyers argue well in English. He believes that even in Scotland the language used in courts is not English. Twenty eight years is a long time, but Jantar Mantar has this way of instilling infinite optimism in people. As long as the protest is peaceful the police do not disturb you, they tell me.

The Protest Street is a haven for cranks.

On the other side of the road, three groups of people protest against rape in their villages. One is from Himachal Pradesh, displaying the victim’s picture, and two from Punjab. Protesters from Punjab are regulars here, some to nudge the slumberous government about missing girls, some to agitate against rape in a village, and some with huge banners requesting the foreign minister to help track down their sons somewhere in Europe.

When their throats get sore, most of them walk to the row of shops at one end of the street, where anything from a thali to masala dosas to kulfis is available for cheap. Some from far-flung villages stroll further down to Parliament Street, which runs perpendicular to Jantar Mantar Road, to gaze at the Parliament. Or they go to the imperial Vijay Chowk to stare in awe at the mighty Rashtrapati Bhavan from outside its closed filigreed gates.

At these moments, the distance between the village and the city of power gets breached. They wave their flags, they sit down on the lawns nearby, where TV cameras whir and anchors point fingers to make a point. By evening, they trudge back to the trucks and buses which brought them from the distant Punjab or Uttar Pradesh, their flags folded under their arms, with maybe the minor satisfaction that the glittering lights of the city of power is no longer that far.