GROUND ZERO REDUX
You have seen it all on non-stop television. You have read it all in the papers. Now, we bring to you on-the-spot reportage from the ground. Rediscover Anna’s experiments with truth. Diary of a ‘wave’ that sweptIndia. Or, did it, really?
Akash Bisht/Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
Rains lash the arid landscape of Delhi as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addresses the nation from the Red Fort. “We want a strong Lokpal to prevent corruption in high places… I also believe that they should not resort to hunger strikes or fast unto deaths,” he says pointing to Team Anna’s threat of Anna Hazare going on an indefinite fast from August 16 if the UPA government doesn’t withdraw the official Lokpal draft. They want Jan Lokpal tabled and passed in Parliament. Deadline: August 30.
The same evening, the ‘messiah’, in yet another ‘stage-managed’ spectacle, after Delhi Police clamped Section 144 at JP Park, suddenly lands at Raj Ghat. For two hours, his image managers exalt him into sudden sainthood: ‘Another Gandhi’. He sits in the middle, glorious and solitary, meditating, waiting for cameras, even as a thin crowd waits at a distance. His event managers later confide that the two-hour show was so planned that the media could take its time and arrive. No wonder, TV channels are able to air this spectacle live.
From one show to another, the media-obsessed Anna camp then rush Hazare to the Constitution Club, where he gives the call for ‘jail bharo’, calling going to jail a “decoration”. He claims he will sit on fast-unto-death(aamaran anshan) until Congress leaders prove charges of corruption against him. This is in sharp contrast to Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi’s clarification that it is an ‘indefinite’ fast, not a fast-unto-death.
Perhaps, a nuanced effort, to keep all options open.
August 16 [7:30am]
The Anna camp wants a free run. They want to hold their programmead infinitum.
Hazare is picked up from Mayur Vihar in East Delhi from an apartment apparently owned by Prashant Bhushan. Hazare, alongwith Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia, are taken to the Gazetted Officers’ Mess of the Delhi Police in Civil Lines, where they are kept in preventive custody for three hours. Shanti Bhushan, co-chairman of the joint drafting committee, arrives later and courts arrest. “This proved to be a big mistake on the part of the government,” says an activist. Initially, despite the media frenzy, not many people come out in solidarity. The crowd is thin, trickling in till 10am. Barring a scattered few, there is no significant crowd at any point in the city. A leading English daily, which unabashedly backs the movement (at the cost of objectivity and truth), said there are jams due to protests. Not true. There is no jam anywhere in Delhi. Taking refuge under umbrellas, TV cameras are seen looking for faces supporting Hazare.
At Civil Lines, the first group which comes in solidarity, a good two hours after he was detained, are committed ABVP cadres, the students’ wing of BJP, from Delhi University. They remain ‘in disguise’ — not identifying their Hindutva affiliations. Till then, only two women volunteers of ‘India Against Corruption’ (IAC) are seen sporting ‘Mai bhi Anna’ caps. ABVP, in the coming days, would play a big role in gathering and managing the crowds. Of course, camouflaged.
At Chhatrasal Stadium, where 1,500 people are in ‘temporary custody’, the protest clearly has Rightwing traits — the slogans and symbols, all reflective of their background. There are lumpen elements, mavericks, and others with no serious political commitment or understanding of the issue. Across the nation, there are scattered protests. There is no ‘massive’ turnout anywhere as the TV channels project. “The middle class and college students can’t sustain this movement for long,” says a civil society activist, “unless the RSS gets into it full strength.”
A senior ABVP leader tells Hardnews that the IAC — the metro-centric, tech-savvy outfit running the Anna show —has been heavily infiltrated by ABVP cadres, including ‘number crunching’ pros. The ABVP’s Youth for Corruption has been deeply intertwined with the IAC. They have been preparing for months; they claim to have enrolled three lakh members for this campaign. Several activists running the Anna show are basically ABVP activists. Some are affiliated to the anti-Dalit/anti-OBC/anti-reservation front called Youth for Equality, which Kejriwal backs, apart from those on the payroll of Kejriwal’s NGOs. “We are actively involved in the campaign and the mobilising. Delhi University campus opens on Tuesday, so we will get our cadres from there. We are fully backing the Anna campaign,” says the ABVP leader. “If there is a crackdown, the BJP leadership will enter the scene.” This is exactly how the script would unfold in the coming days.
Besides, the RSS openly backs the movement and is mobilising support. They equate the current scenario with the JP movement, in which the RSS too had played a major role and acquired mass legitimacy. Another ABVP activist tells Hardnews that the RSS has instructed all its fronts to penetrate “all social movements”.
Meanwhile, the government is on back foot. A guarded Home Minister P Chidambaram says, “None of us are happy. It is a painful duty that we are performing every day.” He mentions that the government was trying to persuade and negotiate for the last two weeks.
Hazare had earlier said that though he did not want this government to go,but if it does fall, he has no problems. Many observers see the campaign as part of a sinister game plan to destabilise and topple UPA-II. “There is a political objective to it, the way their whole campaign is targeting only the Congress,” says Harsh Mander, Member, NAC.
Congress headquarters is buzzing on how the government bungled by arresting Hazare. Rumours of Rahul Gandhi intervening in Hazare’s release gain momentum as he meets the PM for a Congress election committee meeting to finalise candidates for UP elections. Rahul asks the PM to revoke the arrest order; Congress can’t be seen suppressing democratic rights. The arrest order is withdrawn.
Consistent with his adamant positions, Hazare remains defiant, refusing to come out of Tihar Jail until his demands are met. He is not under arrest; he is in relative comfort, and all the time, with his team. The ‘self-mandated’ anti-corruption brigade, riding high on TV support and a motley group of middle-class citizens and youngsters is in no mood to relent. The crowd is still not so strong, despite the media hype.
In the Lok Sabha, several MPs, including Lalu Yadav, assert the supremacy of Parliament. They say that laws have to be constitutionally enacted by Parliament, and a stubborn position outside it can lead to a dangerous trend.
On the ground, it is apparent that the RSS and BJP, which sensed blood, have moved in decisively inside the movement. Outside Tihar, early morning at 5am, there are 40 people, on a night vigil, quite in contrast to the “thousands” predicted by TV channels.
Later, conches are blown, even as others, including Kejriwal’s close associate Manish Sisodia, screams Bharat Mata ki Jai and Vande Mataram to the waiting cameras. The supporters, around 200, including onlookers and elderly in their jogging gear from nearby colonies like Harinagar and Tilak Nagar, press for the Jan Lokpal Bill. In a corner, a group of youngsters from Palam Village are heard whispering, “Gujarat is a model state and Narendra Modi’s Ram Rajya needs to be emulated across the country.”
Others are heard cursing the Gandhi family, with personal attacks on Sonia Gandhi. A half-naked ‘crusader’ cleans the street with a broom, while his colleagues lament how corruption among MCD workers will one day compel people to clean public spaces themselves. Others display brooms — a reminder of similar symbolic use of brooms during the anti-Mandal and anti-reservation agitation by Youth for Equality. (The caricature of brooms is dark and symbolic: upper caste youngsters show it to denigrate affirmative action policies for Dalits and OBCs, implying that they will be forced to use brooms like the lower castes — thereby making a casteist and racist dig at those who are condemned to use brooms for a living, basically Dalits.)
“All this is akin to the anti-Mandal movement,” says an old-timer at JNU. Many blame TV for over-hyping the phenomenon. “When there are ten, the anchor says thousands,” comments a student. “The media coverage smacks of class bias,” says an activist in the land struggle movement. “During the anti-reservation campaigns also, the media fully backed the merit brigade and went so overboard that it lost contact with facts. Everything was blown out of proportion. You can see the same trend here. Did you ever see them going gaga over the Posco agitation of poor villagers, the Jaitapur struggle, farmer suicides, or atrocities on Dalits?”
While a big crowd gathers at India Gate on Wednesday evening, the hype that the streets of Delhiare jammed, defies objectivity. A crowd of about 5,000 at India Gate is reported as 70,000 by a TV channel. Outside Chhatrasal Stadium and Tihar, around 500 and 1,300 protestors shout slogans till late evening.
At Tihar, the number dwindled to 40 after midnight, says a DCP posted there. A large chunk of ‘disguised’ ABVP cadres, elderly citizens, some genuinely concerned people, college students who bunked classes and mavericks like a prosperous paanwalawho recited the ‘birthdays’ of celebrities, constitute the crowd early morning.
Chhatrasal Stadium [3pm]
Overnight, the non-descript Chhatrasal Stadium turns into a hotspot after Delhi Police decides to use it as a temporary detention centre for Hazare’s supporters, including Bedi and Kejriwal, who were here for few hours on August 16. Reports of “thousands” of protestors are wrong. This motley crowd of about 1,000-odd school and college students have either bunked classes or come straight from school. Many of them, mostly boys, are still in their school uniforms. A shirtless boy with Hazare’s poster pasted on his undershirt, shouted, “School nahin jaayenge, bhrataachar mitaayenge.” (We won’t go to school, we will remove corruption.)
In Parliament, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj defends RSS presence in the movement: “Don’t know what happens to the home minister when the RSS supports any campaign… (Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah) Geelani comes openly and talks about disintegrating India. Delhi Police didn’t feel threatened then. But when you see anybody wearing saffron robes, you unleash... force.” Hindutva hardliner Yogi Adityanath says, “Even if we believe that RSS is actively involved in the movement, it shows thatthey have the people on their side.”
PM finally addresses Parliament. “I acknowledge that Shri Anna Hazare may be inspired by high ideals in his campaign to set up a strong and effective Lokpal. However, the path that he has chosen to impose his draft of a bill upon Parliament is totally misconceived and fraught with grave consequences for our parliamentary democracy,” he says, discussing in detail the sequence of events that led to Hazare’s arrest.
After negotiations with government and police, in which Kiran Bedi played a key role, the stalemate is broken. Hazare has the permission to continue his campaign from Ramlila Ground for 15 days. “The negotiations were tough. Whenever Bedi came out with an agreed proposal, Kejriwal would reject it. He was refusing to accept anything less than a permission without conditions,” a Team Anna member tells Hardnews. Meanwhile, inside the ‘open jail’, the twobabas, Sri Sri Ravishankar and Ramdev, visit Hazare. “Sri Sri played a major role in uniting Team Anna and Ramdev. Ramdev did not publicly say anything against Hazare, so it was easy,” says a close aide of Ramdev, a founder-member of IAC.
Outside the jailpremises, a beaming Bedi declares that Hazare will shortly step out of jail and take a procession from Tihar to Mayapuri, and then to Raj Ghat and India Gate, before reaching Ramlila Maidan. Alongwith Bedi, most TV channels literally work as activists: cajoling the people to join this “great” movement, citing time, place, venue.Predictably, a hysterical Times Now and its ‘commander-in-chief’ outdid the others.
At Ramlila Ground, initially thin, the crowd swelled as the day progressed. Amid the slush and dirt, it never crossed the 10,000 mark of a floating population, with many committed cadre of the Sangh Parivar and IAC. This is a patriotic ‘music concert’, with a mix of cheap jokes aimed at the government, amusing the frivolous middle-class youngsters who dance, clap, pump their chests, sway and rock, with the tirangaas a prop.Oh, they are enjoying themselves.
As in most of these protest sites in Delhi, most college and school students do not have a clue of what the Lokpal Bill is all about. Or even what Anna’s demands are. “I don’t know anything about the Lokpal. All I know is that Anna is fighting against this corrupt government,” says Neeraj Kumar of ABVP. A college student goes blank when asked about the points of difference between the government and Team Anna’s draft.
Hazare hardens his stance, while it is widely perceived that a ‘deal’ has been struck with the government on moving to Ramlila Ground. Anna says the proposal of the judiciary’s non-inclusion is unacceptable.
Hazare is lifted on a truck with a huge crowd as he leaves Tihar. Later, for most at Ramlila Ground, Hazare seems to be an ‘avatar’ who wields magical powers to boot out corruption. An ex-serviceman groans from the podium that Anna is a “reincarnation of Lord Krishna”, even as he recites a verse from Bhagvad Gita. “Whenever sin grows on earth, I will come, Lord Krishna told Arjuna. And now, with the sins in our country magnifying, Anna has come as a reincarnation of Lord Krishna,” he says. This is followed by massive applause, with a beatific smile floating on the avatar’s face.
Besides supporters from organisations like Chinmaya Mission, Shanti Kunj Haridwar, Yuva Bihar Foundation, Isha Foundation, ABVP, BJP-RSS fronts and so on, there are others who bunked office. “We don’t want to be corrupt, but our bosses force us to be so,” says a Punjab National Bank employee.
Ironically, in a corner, wefind members of the Bharatiya Kisan Andolan who have traveled from Rahul Gandhi’s constituency, Amethi. “We support Anna. But we will vote for Rahul Gandhi,” reveals one of them, among a group of 40. In the night, Hazare retires at 9:30. Most people have left. Only about 500 are left by midnight. Some shirtless young boys on bikes are shouting slogans and dancing outside.
The weekend turnoutdoes not disappoint the organisers. It’s a full house. A top Team Anna member confides that the demands are becoming impossible and there is a need for consensus. He informs Hardnews that Anna has been “appropriated” by Kejriwal and Bedi. “Anna is a man of limited worldview,” he says, cryptically.
The show gains strength as the day progresses. Amid chants of Vande Mataram, Bharat Mata ki Jai and ‘Sonia jiski mummy hai, Wo sarkar nikammi hai’, anti-Rahul Gandhi/Manmohan Singh slogans, and jibes on Kasab eating biryani (pet Sangh Parivar slogans), the tricolour fluttered. “Rahul Gandhi chor hai” is quite popular. The singularly anti-Congress slogans, which caught on, are clearly orchestrated by trained Sangh Parivar cadre.
Significantly, there are no anti-BJP, anti-Mayawati/Mulayam, or anti-Jayalalithaa slogans in this anti-corruption crusade. Not one poster or cartoon against BS Yeddyurappa or Nishank, despite their corrupt ways. Not one word against Narendra Modi, or Raman Singh’s Salwa Judum. From the stage, or within the crowd. The ideological and tactical character of the leadership, at both levels, is transparent.
There is no fear of repression or police action in this free-for-all carnival, no tension of being anti-establishment, not even the idea of a real, hard struggle, even as the organisers repeat the rhetoric of Emergency. “You can’t compare it with the JP movement. It’s probably closer to the anti-Mandal movement,” remarks Justice AP Shah, former chief justice of the Delhi High Court in an interview with Hardnews.
Later, Kiran Bedi, after waving the flag on the podium all day long, leaves for India Gate to lead a massive crowd. Thousands pour in, including disciplined ABVP cadre. Meanwhile, the ‘carnival’ at Ramlila is at its peak. With over 50,000 ‘spectators’, which includes families and women (many of them complain they were virtually molested), and a sundry band of ‘B’-grade artists, snatching mikes, enthralling the audience with their choreographed, ‘anti-political’, rather cheap performances. Like the political editor of a weekly magazine remarked, “All the criticism is okay, but look at the numbers!” Besides the likes of Ramdev, Sri Sri and the Sangh, there are angst-ridden youth too.
“A lot of thinking went into it. The ‘missed call’ mobile campaignworked. Once we had the numbers, we could contact them. A number of volunteers came through this route,” says a founder-member of IAC. “All this will benefit Kejriwal in the long run,” claims a source. He informs that Kejriwal has kept several things “secret” from other members and it is his outfit, Public Research Cause Foundation, “which is getting all the money”. Plus, the volunteers. “This has the potential to cause a rift in the camp because Kejriwal might try to alienate others,” the source claims. “He is taking care of the corporate angle,” he says. Other important organisational decisions, however, are taken in a manner which creates an impression that everyone has been consulted. “Kejriwal talks to everyone,” says an IAC insider.
The numbers baffle many. People start seeing a cross-class character. Members of Leftwing organisations like AISA join in, but they are totally outwitted by ABVP. Not one Left slogan is heard in the campaign.
An eventful day. After rounds of negotiations and an all-party meeting, it still appears to be a deadlock. Sri Sri starts fancying himself as a high-profile mediator. He goes to LK Advani and promises to come back with other members of Team Anna. This does not happen. It is reported that Sri Sri went alone to meet Advani again and exited from the back door. “Kejriwal suddenly decided to await the PM’s response after a senior TV journalist whispered something in his ear,” says a source.
The day’s last round of negotiations end in a stalemate. Later, Kejriwal and Bedi look distressed when they reach Ramlila Ground. Kejriwal claims that Hazare might be picked up that night. Around 3am, early morning, he announces it to a small crowd. Bedi claims that the government has no concern for Anna’s health. She, however, says that the Delhi Police commissioner has told her that Hazare will not be picked up. The crowd swells to around 5,000 as TV channels air speculations that Hazare might be taken to a hospital by the police.
There are groups of hooligans scattered around Lutyens’Delhi. On bikes without helmets, often without shirts, and on cars and open jeeps, with tricolours, creating mindless ruckus. It seems scary, the city seems under siege. Seemingly drunk, they dance around India Gate and hurl abuses at Sonia Gandhi and Congress leaders. All this at 1am in the night! There was a brutal attack earlier on a CNN-IBN journalist and female journalists were assaulted. Police is attacked at themaidanby drunken youngsters. Will Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan be able to control them?
Even at Ramlila Ground, groups of drunkards take charge of the proceedings. Hazare, who had earlier directed the crowds to thwart any attempt to arrest him, directed his followers to remain non-violent if the police come. His followers scream, “Hum hinsa nahin karenge.” (We won’t do violence). They are there at all the exit gates, guarding, keeping a watchful eye, while others dance inside. “I am here to protect Annaji,” says Kamal Sharma, fumbling. A property dealer, he had contested assembly elections on Uma Bharti’s party ticket. More arrive in their SUVs. At around 4am, suddenly, a group runs towards the VIP gate, seeing an ambulance exit. They surround it, some lie on the ground. It is allowed to leave only after they make sure that it wasn’t ferrying Hazare to the hospital. Another round of jingoism follows. Fortunately, nothing happened that night!
August 25 [7am]
Inside the maidan, people are confined to small groups and not more than 500 crowd the stadium. It’s hot and humid, and people start to pour in, in small numbers. The smell of bread pakoras, matthis, poori subziruns through the air. Biscuit and water packets are being distributed. As more people come in, queues outside the food stalls keep getting longer. More people stand at these stalls than at the entry gates. Elderly ‘sadhu-type’ men, dressed in saffron, are seen distributing food, while everyone addresses them as babaji. The babajis ensure that everyone gets food; they give aashirwadas people touch their feet. Hardnews tries speaking to the man-in-charge of his affiliations and background, but he just points at the banner above: Jan Sewa Sansthan, Rohtak. The area near these stalls is an ugly mess with muddy water, polythene, paper plates, water pouches and biscuit packets covering the ground. Often, the entire protest ground resembles a huge garbage bin. “Reflects the character of this ecological Gandhian movement,” comments a cynical journalist.
Disgusted with this attitude of mass apathy towards basic cleanliness, an MCD official says, “What revolution are you talking about? Look at the queue outside those food stalls. Many people come here just for food. They enter, shout Bharat Mata ki jai, take a stroll around, and then stand for free food. If you remove these stalls, the numbers would go down drastically.”
He reveals that these stalls were violating all MCD norms, and to keep the crowds interested, they serve food till as late as 3am. “Look around Ramlila Maidan — it’s one of most crowded spaces in the city. New Delhi Railway Station, Lady Irwin Hospital, GB Pant Hospital and Girdharilal Maternity Hospital are in the vicinity. The hungry, poor and others from these places come here for a free meal and wholesome entertainment. Where else would they see Bollywood and TV personalities for free?” he says. Ironically, the ‘food crowd’ choose to move out of the ground after their meals from the gate adjacent to the last food stall.
Another MCD official says, “CPI(M) held a rally here. Most people were barefoot, from the poorest strata of society. They were given pathetic, tasteless food for Rs 15 while these well-to-do ones are getting food made in desi ghee for free.This is no freedom struggle, it’s a phokat ka bhandara with bhajans and sadhus. These elite protestors can’t even stand in the rain, and you think they’ll change the world,” he says, caustically.
Close to the dais, people raise slogans and perform gimmicky tricks whenever the camera pans at them. Among the crowd, volunteers are selling religious books, handing out posters of gau mata, Adarsh baalak, dharma samaj, Arya Samaj, evils of drug abuse and alcoholism, along with books of Yadav, Vaishya, Hindu Samaj communities, and so on.
Ramnivas Aggarwal, who came all the way from Charkhi Dadri Mani in Haryana, is busy pasting Hindu religious posters on the walls. He succeeds in capturing eyeballs and proudly claims that posters against cow slaughter have indeed caught people’s attention. He has covered more than 200 metres of wall with these posters. “It looks like a Hindu religious ceremony,” says a Muslim NRI student who is here to watch the spectacle.
It’s close to noon and the crowd is still inconsistent. School students are in large numbers, so are the sundry sadhus. A young baba, who strangely calls himself ‘Youth Baba’ (real name: Balakdasji Mahatyagi), is accompanied by a large number of supporters from Durg district in Chhattisgarh. They enter the stadium loudly shouting slogans to attract attention. Youth Baba, with folded hands, greets the people. With vermillion smeared on his forehead, he settles down a few feet away from the dais. Once settled, he sings religious songs; soon, several young boys join the song and dance.
Hardnews asks one of his elderly followers, “So baba, what brought you here?” He is silent and points his finger at ‘Youth Baba’. They have no clue about Hazare. Similarly, a group of destitute farmers who came all the way from Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh, too, don’t have an inkling about Hazare. Dressed in colourful headgears, the men and women huddle in a corner and gorge on ‘free’ biscuits. Lakshman Singh Muniya, who led them here, says: “We are being given poisonous seeds that are killing our fields, so we are against these multinational seed companies. For city-dwellers it might not be an issue, but for us it is a life-and-death question.”
Members of Shanti Kunj, Haridwar, arrive in large numbers. (Who are bringing busloads of them here? Clearly, many of them are brought here by BJP fronts.) One of their representatives explains the need for an ideal society under the guidance of rishis (sages). Jairam Motlani from the outfit repeatedly gives a discourse on dharma samaj, rishiyon ki parampara, yagna, aadarsh gaon, jan chetna, swabhlamban, the miracles of gau mutra (cow urine), and also about a new, different, original, ancient, holy and divine, Hindu social and political system.
However, there are many faces that are here to genuinely support Hazare and his cause. Hardnews spoke to many ordinary people who explained that growing corruption is causing price rise, which hurts them the most. “At least, he is standing up for some cause. How many people have done this in the past? He doesn’t have any political affiliations and leads a simple life. I guess, that is what forced us out of our houses,” says Renu Johri, a resident of Jahangirpuri in Delhi.
The likes of Ramdev, evidently a front for RSS and VHP, have addressed the gathering today. “Baba is not a fool. He only came when he saw that the time and crowd was appropriate for him,” says a confidante. Sources reveal that hardline Hindutva fanatics, including S Gurumurthy, were in touch with members of Team Anna all through. Hazare is in his eleventh day of fast. Team Anna is on the threshold with jittery nerves. They stick to their ‘five star doctor’ Naresh Trehan and do not allow government doctors to check Hazare, thereby “violating” the agreement, says a harassed police official. After the PM’s and Parliament’s appeal, pressure starts mounting on Hazare to end his fast. Even moderate colleagues, including Swami Agnivesh and Justice Santosh Hegde, appeal that he must end his fast.
“Bedi and Kejriwal are not allowing him to break his fast. They are not even allowing anyone to talk directly to him. They think that once he breaks his fast, the whole movement will fizzle out,” says a Team Anna insider. “Kejriwal is adamant. Why? Whose line is he following? Why is he pushing everything to the brink, to absolute chaos and breakdown? This can lead to violence,” says an insider. (Later, Govindacharya says that he was not agreeable to Hazare breaking his fast.)
“Hazare might have been made to believe that the crowd might turn against him if he breaks his fast without getting his demands fulfilled,” says a close aide. Sources reveal that a desperate Hazare has got in touch with the editor of a Marathi TV channel in Mumbai and conveyed that a Marathi Congress leader should be immediately deputed to talk to him, and that he is trapped in the “clutches” of Kejriwal and others, who are not allowing him to break his fast. That is why Vilasrao Deshmukh is quickly deputed to talk it out with Hazare, who overrules hardliner Kejriwal and softens his stand on the three points — a big climbdown from the “impossible” demands made earlier. A defensive Bedi makes a Freudian slip and clarifies to reporters that they are not holding Hazare captive. Interestingly, Bedi and Kejriwal give way to veteran Medha Patkar for the final negotiations. What happened?
August 27: Ramlila Maidan
With the stalemate between the government and Team Anna over, a joyous Bedi announces that Hazare will break the fast on August 28. There is euphoria and relief, and everyone wants their share of fame by expressing their views on the ‘so-called’ victory. As Medha Patkar begins her speech, the microphone is snatched away from her by an IAC volunteer and handed over to Kejriwal, who then gives a victory speech while Medha disappears. What happened?
Prashant Bhushan too faces a similar situation when the microphone is taken away from him by Kumar Biswas, Kejriwal’s sidekick, in the middle of his speech, and given to Bedi. The lawyer sheepishly disappears while Bedi carries on with her hysterical speech.
August 28: Ramlila Maidan [7:30am]
Early morning, thestreets are quieter this Sunday than they were on the weekdays. Thousands crowd the New Delhi metro station. Outside, street children selling Anna merchandise surround the supporters. Flags are for Rs 200, Anna topis for Rs 5, tricolour wristbands for Rs 40, among other expensive stuff. Market forces and inflation seem to have hit the anti-corruption movement.
Strikingly, a lot of children are accompanied by elders and want their faces painted. “It’s time to party,” says a youngster. Outside the ground, the turnout is still not as huge Team Anna expects it to be. Inside, too, the numbers aren’t that big. People jostle for space under the tents to avoid the scorching sun. The scenes resemble a carnival. People sit on the ground, eating freebees with their children clapping and humming popular Hindi film songs.
While one of the tents has people beyond its capacity, an adjacent one is frequented by none. The tent has large pools of stagnant water that has begun to stink. Around the corner, a group ofsadhus sit in a semicircle. One of them lights up achillum and the rest eagerly await their turn. Dense smoke and a familiar fragrance fill the air. People pour in and the stadium gets crowded with each passing hour.
Food stalls are still serving freshly cooked meals. “Is there a better way to spend a Sunday with the family? You are getting entertained, and that too for a genuine cause,” says a daily wager waiting his turn for halwa. Ramnivas Aggarwal is still here with a Jai Shri Ram sticker on his forehead. He isn’t interested in ‘fast politics’, he has his own brand of politics. He is busy explaining the relevance of his posters and how effective they can be in making India an ideal society. “You should follow these rules, otherwise you are not a good Hindu,” he tells all and sundry.
Youth Baba and his supporters too have settled comfortably and continue to sing devotional songs. The crowds have now swelled beyond 30,000 and people from all walks of life patiently wait for Hazare’s words. Children climb atop their parents’ shoulders to get a glance of the “messiah”. Men and women are in awe of the “saint”, and patiently wait for him to end his fast.
Meanwhile, drumbeaters are having a field day as people are paying them to play their favourite beats. Some drunk hooligans dance till fully exhausted, while girls dance and watch from a distance.
Kejriwal thanks all the people who supported the movement. Interestingly, he talks about the Constitution and Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar for the first time in the movement, clearly to counter the Udit Raj-led ‘Save the Constitution and Reservations’ rally, as well as Sharad Yadav’s and Lalu Yadav’s contention that this campaign is against Dalits, OBCs and minorities. It is way past 10am and the fast has not yet been broken. People have started to get restless in the sweltering, humid heat.
There’s still no sign of Hazare breaking his fast. Instead, he takes the mike and starts a long speech that doesn’t seem to end. “We have to change the election system of the country... we must have the right to reject,” he says. With his fast and speech still going on, the restless crowd makes its way out of the stadium as hurriedly as it had come in.
“Everyone would leave once he breaks his fast, and it’ll get very crowded. So we are leaving early,’’ says Vikas Sharma of Janakpuri.
VHP chief Ashok Singhal praises his cadres for the “commendable job” at Ramlila Maidan. Apparently, Dharma Yatra Mahasangh, a wing of the VHP, was feeding more than 2,000 persons every day. He says, over 20,000 RSS and VHP volunteers worked without revealing their identity at Ramlila Maidan for the success of the event.
Guess, we at Hardnews were bang on.